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Court: Michigan city can't conceal police force policy


A police department in Michigan's Upper Peninsula has been ordered to release its full policy on the use of force after failing to convince the state appeals court that portions should be concealed from the public.

The court noted that Amy Hjerstedt's request in Sault Ste. Marie followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in 2020.

“Michigan has a strong public policy favoring public access to government information," Judge Sima Patel said Tuesday in a 3-0 opinion.

"Although certain information may be exempt from disclosure, the statutory exemptions are not intended to shield public bodies from the transparency that FOIA was designed to foster,” Patel said, referring to Michigan's public records law.

Sault Ste. Marie, population 13,400, gave Hjerstedt only a heavily redacted copy of its policy. The redactions centered on use-of-force considerations and other strategies.

Police Chief Wesley Bierling said releasing the information could affect the safety of officers and the general public. A Chippewa County judge ruled in favor of the city.

The appeals court, however, overturned the decision, citing three key points under the records law. The court said other police departments have posted their policies online.

"The city could not produce any particularized evidence that the availability of these policies has resulted in endangerment of the life or safety of law enforcement officers, their families or the general public,” Patel wrote, joined by judges Stephen Borrello and Douglas Shapiro.

The court sent the case back to Judge James Lambros to release the force policy, award attorney fees to Hjerstedt and determine whether Sault Ste. Marie should pay $1,000 in punitive damages.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.