Mug shots are public records

Full text of judge's decision

A Roanoke judge reminded local sheriff Octavia Johnson that mug shots are public records that must be released upon request (they can be kept confidential if their release would jeopardize an ongoing investigation, but not after that danger's passed). Johnson's policy was to release photos of those still in the jail's custody, but not those for people released on bail.

Below is the full text of brief that ran in The Roanoke Times over the weekend. A link to the story will follow (hopefully). Here's a related editorial from the RT.



Judge: Sheriff should have released photos

A Roanoke judge ruled in favor of two media outlets that had challenged
the city sheriff's office for denying a 2008 request for a photograph of
an arrested person released on bond.

Circuit Court Judge Charlie Dorsey said Sheriff Octavia Johnson must
adhere to such requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
The legislation provides an exception when the release of the photo
could jeopardize a felony case investigation.

WSLS (Channel 10) and The Roanoke Times filed the petition in September
asking the judge to mandate that the sheriff release mug shot photos
whenever the media ask.

The issue escalated after a July 2008 instance when both the television
station and the newspaper were denied a photo request. The sheriff said
her office has a policy of not releasing photographs of inmates who are
not in the custody of the jail. Both media said it was not the first
time each had experienced problems.

"We appreciate the serious consideration Judge Dorsey gave this and are
happy to see that he agreed with our position," Roanoke Times Editor
Carole Tarrant said. "We look forward to working with Sheriff Johnson on
this so the photos are available to the public in a timely manner."

Melissa Preas, news director at WSLS, said the victory is one for the
station's viewers.

"It is their right to have this information just as much as our right to
get it," she said.

Patricia Johnson, the sheriff's spokeswoman, said Octavia Johnson had
not received the ruling and was unaware there had been one.

Dorsey, in the ruling dated Wednesday, also ordered the sheriff's office
to pay the station and newspaper's attorney fees in the amount of

-- Courtney Cutright

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