Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Memphis PD Monitor to Conduct Focus Groups Feb. 25-28

The Memphis Police Department Independent Monitor will hear from citizens in small focus groups next week beginning Tuesday, Feb. 25, at four community centers around Memphis.

Dr. Sheila Peters, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Fisk University in Nashville, has been retained by the Monitor to conduct the focus groups.

“The purpose of the focus groups is to provide a mechanism for the community to have a voice about the use of police surveillance in Memphis as well as the Kendrick decree,” Peters said. “The focus groups will give people a greater opportunity to express their personal perceptions and opinions.

“Participants will complete a short survey, a set of questions, and we will discuss that and other things that may come up,” Peters said. 

The sessions, which are for up to 12 persons each, will be conducted Feb. 25 at Douglass Community Center; Feb. 26 at Lester Community Center; Feb. 27 at Orange Mound Community Center, and Feb. 28 at Charles Powell Community Center. Four rounds per day are scheduled, including 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. time slots.

Citizens may sign up for these by contacting Dr. Peters at 615-497-2963, or or by accessing the QR code on the Monitor’s website:

The Monitor also will hold its third public community forum at 7 p.m., March 10, at the Ben Hooks Library, 3030 Poplar Avenue.

U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla appointed Edward Stanton III on Dec. 21 to serve as Independent Monitor in the wake of the court’s Oct. 26 ruling that the city of Memphis had violated the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree which forbade Memphis police from gathering political intelligence on citizens. 

Other resources are available on the Monitor’s website, Our reports have mainly appeared in Daily Kos. Here is our most recent story, and other stories, videos and resources are linked afterwards:

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Court-Appointed Monitor Warns of 'Slippery Slope' in Memphis Police New Social Media Policy

The federal court-appointed Memphis Police Department Independent Monitor has objected to MPD’s proposed social media policy in a Jan. 8 letter to U.S. Western District Court Judge Jon McCalla.
MPD’s proposed policy, which was entered into the ACLU v. City of Memphis case record on Dec. 21, 2019, generally follows the FBI model and hierarchy of investigation and oversight. That represents a “slippery slope,” Independent Monitor Edward L. Stanton III told the court. The standards set by the Kendrick Consent Decree supersede the FBI’s model, Stanton wrote. Attorneys for the city of Memphis have the next move to make with the court, assuming they will argue that MPD’s newly crafted policy is adequate and conforms to the 1978 Decree and modern times. 
Stanton wrote:
Independent Monitor Edward L. Stanton III at Nov. 7 community forum
“Using the FBI’s protocols as a base for the City’s social-media policy would crest a slippery slope because the FBI is not bound by the Kendrick Consent Decree, and it was not so bound when it formulated its protocols. But the FBI’s demonstrated resistance to oversight and its spotty compliance with the comparatively minimal limits on its powers make the Bureau’s protocols a poor model for adoption by the City for a more fundamental reason. 
“As the Court has now stated on several occasions, the Kendrick Consent Decree provides protections above the Constitutional floor. (See e.g., Order, ECF No. 250, at PagelD # 8405.) The FBI has proven itself unwilling or unable to comply with obligations below that floor. Its protocols should not now serve as guideposts for the City’s social media policy or other efforts by the City to remedy violations of its own, greater legal commitments.”
The FBI policy on investigations, including citizens’ social media activity, generally is a three-level process. The first level called “pre-assessment” requires no supervision of agents, no actual evidence or no probable cause. Escalating levels of investigation are termed “assessment” and “predicative investigation.” 
In a Dec. 31, 2019, filing of comments, ACLU attorney Thomas Castelli had called the city’s proposed policy “confusing” and also cited flaws with an FBI “model.” Castelli wrote: 
“Because the use of the ‘Bob Smith’ account was specifically found by this Court to violate the Consent Decree, ACLU-TN believes it is extremely important that the social media policy include specific discussion of and references to the use of covert or undercover social media accounts.” 
McCalla found in October, 2018, that the city of Memphis had violated the 1978 Kendrick Consent Decree which forbade the gathering of political intelligence on citizens who were breaking no laws. At that time McCalla ordered the establishment of an Independent Monitor to review and guide MPD’s compliance with the Kendrick Decree.
City-retained attorney Mark Glover of the Baker Donelson law firm has petitioned the court to change the consent decree, claiming that it is outdated and will hamper law enforcement’s ability to combat crime. The city has even argued that the Kendrick Decree will cripple its Crimestoppers program. Judge McCalla has set a June 17, 2020, date for an evidentiary hearing on the city’s petition. 
The ACLU’s lawsuit was sparked by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s so-called “black list” of citizens who must be escorted if they entered City Hall and was propelled by revelations that Sgt. Timothy Reynolds of MPD Homeland Security had posed as “Bob Smith” — self-described as a “fellow protester” — and had stalked social media accounts of “activists” and others. Reynolds became enthralled by his assignment and, among other compilations, made a power point report entitled “Blue Suede Shoes.” He made trips to Nashville to watch what he called a “Black Panther demonstration” and other actions and to study Metro Nashville PD responses to them. The city posted daily Joint Intelligence Briefings (JIBs) about citizens’ political activities and even disseminated those to large employers such as AutoZone, FedEx and St. Jude. 
McCalla has relied on Monitor team member and social media Subject Matter Expert Rachel Levinson-Waldman to inform the court on social media investigation policies of other federal agencies, such as the FBI and IRS. Levinson-Waldman has testified and provided charts and documentation to the federal court during the Monitor’s quarterly reports in August and November, 2019.
Social Media SME Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Deputy Monitor Jim Letten
“We are coming at this very much through a civil rights and civil liberties lens,” Levinson-Waldman told citizens at a Nov. 7, 2019, community forum. 
“In my humble opinion, the tricky parts of the consent decree are going to be played out in the context of social media and online communications,” Deputy Monitor Jim Letten said at the November forum. 
In McCalla’s Oct. 26, 2018, ruling, he noted that Memphis has the opportunity to be a “pioneer” and is in a unique position among U.S. law enforcement agencies to form policy “for the protection of privacy in the digital age.” McCalla wrote:
“Memphis is unique in having imposed a higher standard on itself by adopting the 1978 Consent Decree, but it is not alone in confronting the questions presented by modern surveillance. Every community must decide how to ensure an appropriate balance between public safety and protecting personal rights. That balance is determined not only by the text of the policies, but also by the actions taken to enforce them. By successful implementation of the Consent Decree, MPD has the opportunity to become one of the few, if only, metropolitan police departments in the country with a robust policy for the protection of privacy in the digital age. See generally Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Government Access to and Manipulation of Social Media: Legal and Policy Challenges, 61 How. L.J. 523 (2018) (detailing the widespread use of social media monitoring by police on lawful protesters).18 The Court recognizes this may be a heavy burden; being a pioneer usually is.”
Stanton’s letter to the court also references a 2014 report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board which has reported on FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) abuses by the FBI. 
Thinking about FISA court — and complaints by the Memphis mayor and MPD that the 1978 Kendrick Decree is “out of date” — brings to mind former President George W. Bush complaining post-9/11 about the FISA law and the requirement of warrants for wiretaps. 
“It’s an old law,” Bush would argue with that smirk of his. “It’s from 1978!” 
The age of the law did not make it irrelevant, no more than the 1978 Kendrick Decree became irrelevant. Laws against murder, kidnapping, robbery, etc. are older than that, but we do not say they are outdated just because someone was injured with a weapon that did not exist in the 1700s.
Judge McCalla’s citation “Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Government Access to and Manipulation of Social Media: Legal and Policy Challenges:”
Independent Monitor Stanton’s Jan. 8 letter to the court:
ACLU filing Dec. 31, 2019:
MPD social media policy filed Dec.  21, 2019:
Civil Rights Concerns about Social Media Monitoring by Law Enforcement:
From Memphis with Love: A Model to Protect Protesters in the Age of Surveillance:…
In Tennessee, from New Market to Memphis, law enforcement turns on the victims:
Our Videos regarding MPD Independent Monitor Team:
“Monitoring the Police in Memphis, Tennessee”
“Through a Civil Liberties Lens: Monitor Eyes Police Watching Citizens’ Social Media”
“Memphis PD Monitor Forum: Highlights Reel”
Our previous related stories in Daily Kos:
Document dump released by the City of Memphis in June 2018:
Gary Moore operates Moore Media Strategies, founded nonprofit Citizens Media Resource, makes documentary and narrative films about social justice issues, and writes about First and Fourth Amendment issues as FreeSpeechZone in Daily Kos. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Two years ago today...Charlottesville...Trump-stoked white nationalists came out. Heather Heyer lost her life opposing hate and bigotry when one of them drove his car into her and others. One week later, police arrested Memphis citizens who objected to the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in a central city park.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Slicing and Dicing Citizen Oversight of Police in Tennessee and the USA

Wendy Zuniga (with bullhorn) and Memphis citizens urge City Council to reinstate oversight (July 2015)

Toward the end of the day, standing at the back of the room, Community Oversight Board First Vice-Chair Jamel Campbell-Gooch expressed the takeaway from NACOLE’s regional meeting in Nashville May 17:
“Listening to everyone, we see there are so many different ways to go about this,” said Campbell-Gooch. In Tennessee vernacular, we might say, “More than one way to skin a cat.” By whatever description, this was not only a “takeaway” – it was an understatement. 
Leading officials of community police oversight boards from across the country gathered at Nashville’s main library for a regional meeting of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. They came from Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington DC, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville and elsewhere for the one-day event. 
Nashville’s COB, voted into power by a public referendum in November, was the shiny, new player at the event. Many COB members and its newly appointed executive director, William Weeden, showed up to soak in whatever they could as COB establishes how they will operate. So did several community members whose activism through Community Oversight Now had launched the referendum.
What Campbell-Gooch meant was this: There are many different “models” for a community to operate a citizen board. Taking in the smorgasbord of how citizen boards operate, in all their nuances, was the day’s food for thought. 
A citizen board, for example, may take on the role of directly investigating every single citizen complaint about police abuses and mistreatment. An example would be the  Chicago Office of Police Accountability, which has a staff of 150, including 90 investigators, and an $18-million budget, according to its chief administrator, Sydney Roberts.  Citizen complaints first come directly through COPA. They fielded 4,200 complaints in 2018, she said, and 70 per cent of those they forwarded along to Chicago Police Department internal affairs.

Nicholas Mitchell of Denver, Sydney Roberts of Chicago and Nicolle Barton of St. Louis share their experiences with citizen oversight

COPA investigates such things as shootings by police, showing up alongside Chicago Police Department officers and command staff to interview witnesses, go to the hospital, etc.  Although Chicago had other oversight mechanisms prior to COPA, Robert’s office was established by ordinance in 2017 and after the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald. That led to an investigation by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division of CPD’s “patterns and practices” and a consent decree which became effective March 1.
At the other end of the spectrum in its authority and size was Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), which has a staff of two and is allowed to hear citizen complaints only after police internal affairs has completed its investigation and notified the complaining citizens of its decision. CLERB Administrator Virginia Wilson represented the Memphis board and served on a panel at the NACOLE meeting.
While police unions, associations and Fraternal Order of Police fight citizen oversight tooth and nail, Knoxville Chief of Police Eve Thomas showed up at the Tennessee General Assembly in March to object to a GOP bill which limited oversight. The bill bans citizen oversight boards from having direct subpoena authority such as Nashville’s COB and Knoxville’s Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) have by local ordinance.

Knoxville Chief of Police Eve Thomas

Thomas also was the only active member of law enforcement to show up at the NACOLE event. She had some memorable insights.
“I had an ‘aha’ moment. My ‘aha’ moment was in 1994,” Thomas told the gathering.  “I made a stop. It was a gentleman of color. I was very professional.
“At the end, he said, ‘You were respectful. You did everything right. But you were rude.’”
Thomas was puzzled.
“You didn’t ask me how my day was going,” the man told her. 
I touched base with Chief Thomas again yesterday to make sure I understood her meaning.
“It was more of a realization of the need to be courteous and more thoughtful in my interactions,” she said, “rather than ‘business-like.’ I learned from this gentleman to put more emphasis on treating everyone the way I want to be treated rather than being sure I say the right things  -- in a robotic manner.”
Thomas said she was hopeful that today’s young officers will be less prejudiced than previous generations.
“They are great on the technology,” Thomas said. “The thing is, we have to train them how to communicate with people.”
However, it’s the young officers, such as in their mid-twenties, who seem to most often shoot young, black men who are trying to get away. Talking would have been a great option over shooting. In fact, a key characteristic of a successful officer is an outgoing personality. 
If the takeaway of the day was variety, there was consensus on many subjects, such as community outreach, opposition from the FOP and the race-based source of most complaints. 

NACOLE Regional Training and Networking in Nashville May 17, 2019

Nicolle Barton, executive director, City of St. Louis Civilian Oversight Board, was formerly a sworn officer, and she worked in the criminal justice system in the probation department in Ferguson, MO, when officer Darren Wilson murdered Mike Brown Jr. Aug. 9, 2014. As a former officer, Barton gives lie to FOP’s cliché complaint that only police can police the police.
“The FOP fought against us from the beginning. Our FOP rep had a physical altercation with an activist at a Town Hall meeting,” Barton said.
“They think, ‘Why would a body of citizens who don’t know anything about what we do tell us what to do?’”
Even worse: “During peaceful protests after (St. Louis) officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith, police had undercover officers in the crowd to watch citizen protesters. 
“Police maced and beat protesters – and even one of our own undercover officers!” Barton said.
“Continued community outreach is important,” Barton noted. “I attend public safety meetings, Town Hall meetings, neighborhood meetings. I am a member of the Association of Latin Professionals.”
Susan Hutson is the Independent Police Monitor in New Orleans, serving since 2010 to oversee the city’s consent decree with the DOJ.  She spoke about their mediation program between officers and citizens.
“At the heart of every single one of these conversations is race,” Hutson said. “The officer thinks, Well, you were walking around with your pants hanging down.”
Panelists also agreed that members of the community should be at the forefront of policy making.
“People should have a seat at the table on policy, not just a bunch of experts,” said Denver Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell.
“We need to meet the community where they are, where things are happening,” said COPA’s Roberts. “We need to establish those relationships ahead of time.”
Memphis’ CLERB and Nashville’s COB, among other oversight boards, have called on the Atlanta Citizen Review Board as a resource. CLERB investigator Arthur Robinson spent a few days in Atlanta in 2017 studying their process. We talked with Samuel Lee Reid II, ACRB’s executive director, during a break in the meeting. We will give him the last word, along with a link to our video interview.

ACRB Executive Director Samuel Lee Reid II

“These oversight boards grow out of something that happened,” Reid said. “And then the community demands it.” 
But later, apathy can set in, Reid said, “and the community moves onto something else… We have to keep the community engaged and our work fresh.” 
One example of outreach was a short video that ACRB produced, “Don’t Run,” urging citizens not to run from police. “Running away” has triggered an emotionally wrong and unconstitutional impulse in officers who have shot and killed non-violent citizens who were trying to get away. The list is long, but it includes Daniel Hambrick in Nashville, Darrius Stewart in Memphis and Justus Howell in Zion, IL.

Atlanta oversight board developed ‘Don’t Run’ video

ACRB also puts on know-your-rights workshops, which not only explain the rights citizens have, but the responsibilities citizens have.
“We do the know-your-rights workshops at libraries, churches. We will come to your family barbecue,” Reid said. “We will go anywhere, any time. That’s how important it is.” 
Our feature documentary, Who Will Watch the Watchers? examines citizen oversight of police, drilling down on the Memphis movement to bring back its CLERB, which had been secretly disbanded by Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton in 2011. The film also takes on profiling, filming police, the First Amendment in the Trump era and other contemporary issues. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

On Your Uber Ride to Downtown Nashville, Watch Out for Those Political Potholes

While taking an Uber ride to the second Community Oversight Board meeting, I realized I had underestimated the rancor and divide in Nashville.

Here is our story in Daily Kos: "On Your Uber Drive in Nashville, Watch Those Political Potholes" 

COB member Phyllis Hildreth (right) laments distrust in the community 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Community Oversight: 7 Ways New Nashville Board Can Connect

As Metro Nashville Council fills appointments to the new Community Oversight Board, what will soon matter most to the board and administrative staff is this: Make Connections. 
Not the good ol’ boy, Nashville-standard-operating-procedure connections – but connections to the community, and especially those that are left out of the usual Nashville network. 
Here are seven things on our Connections Laundry List:
1—The first message out of the box has to be: We’re open for business, and this is how we work. While COB was adorned with broad powers by the historical referendum citizens approved in November -- and it has a lot of levers to pull -- the centerpiece is to give platform to citizens who believe they have been wronged by law enforcement. 

2—Keep mass media in the loop, even after the new wears off. In a local and national atmosphere where media and the community are mindful of excessive force by police, media are in a high state of on–the-story. But as time wears on, it will be important for COB and staff to guide the narrative and tell its own story. Be pro-active at providing news and feature stories for media to consume. Be as transparent as citizens want police and government to be. “Media relations” includes keeping the press interested in covering every meeting. 
3—On social media, COB should be as visible and engaging as any department of Metro government or any business. 
4—Show, don’t just tell. Posts that include video get more views. COB can produce its own video packages –  for example, a walk-through of how to make a complaint, or what to do if police pull you over. Short films can be created to use for group presentations. Atlanta Citizen Review Board, for instance, made a super-short sequence entitled, “Don’t Run from Police.”
5—Be approachable out there. Be visible in the schools, churches, community centers and wherever they will have you (such as businesses and law offices). Know Your Rights role-playing workshops are one type of presentation. Duplicate yourself by getting students at Metro schools involved in conducting their own Know Your Rights Theater
6—Video every meeting. Live-stream, but also produce high-quality video files of the total meeting, and re-mix into a meeting “highlights” not to exceed 15 minutes. Archive your videos because citizens, media, filmmakers, historians and courts will have occasion to use them in the future. Metro Nashville already does this with certain events and meetings, such as police officers being promoted, but watch for push-back from some quarters to the perception of “dirty laundry” being aired over city channels.
7—Have a user-friendly website where citizens can make complaints online. Your own story-telling video packages, how-to’s and all sorts of stuff can be resources for the public. Website should include meeting agendas, minutes and news. Cases that have been adjudicated should have a synopsis, because it is instructive to know what kind of complaints the board receives and how they are making decisions. 
An example of what not to do -- how to fail to communicate with the community despite good intentions -- can be found in the Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board. CLERB recently decided to drop monthly meetings and meet every other month due to a dwindling case load. CLERB heard only 10 to 12 cases in 2018, according to CLERB Chairperson Casey Bryant.

CLERB Chair Casey Bryant: “People don’t know they can complain.”

“People don’t know they can make a complaint,” Bryant said.  “The letters that the police internal affairs sends out after making a decision are not understandable to most people…It’s not clear what a citizen’s recourse is.”
In Nashville, citizens may make complaints directly to COB, but a Memphis citizen must first complain through police internal affairs before appealing to CLERB.
“So that’s why I want to do some more outreach and get people in the public to understand our role and the possibilities. The first thing to do would be to have an accurate website that is up to date and user-friendly. 
“To make sure we get all this out is tough,” said Bryant, who is a lawyer. “We could have a Facebook page. We talked a couple of months ago about putting on panels, with academics or members of law enforcement.  And going around town and educating people on issues. 
“We were trying to have meetings in different parts of town, hoping  people would come, but we just weren’t able to publicize it.
“I did an interview last night with Fox 13 news,” Bryant said after a Jan. 10 CLERB meeting. “Scores of people said they saw it. The TV story was playing off people’s unease about police brutality and wanting to see something change about it.  I think CLERB is positioned to bring some light to those issues. 
Casey Bryant swears in complainant Trent Collier
“But we need to be out in public. We have to demystify whatever people think this is.” 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Using a FOIA to get information out of the government

Besides our right and ability to vote, which remains under attack, and First Amendment, which has been under attack forever but with greater intensity in the Trump era, the Freedom of Information Act may be democracy’s last stand.

Why was this officer pointing at Manuel Duran?
We filed an FOIA with Homeland Security to find out
                                                                              --Moore Media Images
This is chiefly where major stories have been coming from in this century as governmental sources seem to be inclining toward increasing paranoia mixed with arrogance.

To submit a FOIA – if you hear someone say what sounds like “Foy- ya,” this is what they are talking about – involves several steps but is not terribly hard. It is not so hard as actually getting the government to respond fully, promptly and accurately.

Here is my quickly composed how-to:

To submit a FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act request, AKA Open Records Request, from the city of Memphis, first go here and set up an account.

After establishing an account with your email and password, submit your request. Just type what you want, what you are looking for. Be specific as to time frame, names of anyone you are looking for, etc. You will be asked to attach a document showing who you are and where you live, such as a shot of your drivers license or voter registration card, proving you are a local resident.

Here are two examples, one I am thinking about requesting and one I previously requested:

From City of Memphis, MPD. “Please provide copies of all traffic citations issued on July 6, 2018, between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., written by law enforcement officers within the following physical perimeters:

“North of I-240; South of Park Avenue; East of E. Prescott; West of Getwell.”

Here is one I submitted to MPD on May 22 after I had received documents from TN Department of Homeland Security, which I regarded as incomplete, upon this same subject. My objective here was to uncover preemptive targeting of activists by law enforcement.

“Intra-agency and inter-agency communications related to suspected or actual rallies, demonstrations and public political displays the week of MLK50, April 2-April 7, 2018. Agencies and information-gathering and sharing entities shall include all federal, state, city and county, including but not limited to RTCC, FBI, TBI, ATF, JTTF, Fusion Centers, Secret Service, ICE, Dept. of Homeland Security; as well as all video and photographic images, and audio recordings, that may have been recorded by LE between 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. on April 3 at or near 201 Poplar Ave. Fulfillment of this request is to be provided digitally and electronically at no cost to the requester.”

MPD’s reply was as follows:

“The City has reviewed your request and has determined that the records requested are exempt from disclosure for the following reasons: Per the custodian, this matter is an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation and pursuant to TN Crim Pro Rule 16, the records are not available at this time. 

“This completes your public records request with the City of Memphis.


“Public Records Office
“City of Memphis”


To request information from the TN Department of Safety and Homeland Security, including the state Fusion Center (aggregator of law enforcement communications), send an email to

He is a staff attorney in the office of Department of Safety commissioner David Purkey.  He is the screener and intake man for FOIA requests.

Here is how I posed my request on April 17:

“All documents of every sort, including but not limited to emails, faxes and reports, pertaining to protests and public demonstrations in Memphis, TN, on April 2 and April 3, 2018; from, to and among all agencies, state, federal and local; and especially pertaining to a “Rolling Block Party” posted on Facebook and including but not limited to these individuals: Keedran Franklin, Hunter Demster, Spencer Kaaz, Yuleiny Escobar and Manuel Duran.”

They are required to respond within 2 weeks – even if their response is, We don’t have it yet. We will have it in 2 weeks. Then, 2 weeks later, you may get another, We don’t have it yet, but we will have it in 2 weeks.  Due to FOIA rules, the government entities receiving the requests are obliged to send updates periodically, even if they are merely stalling and hoping you will give up; or trying to figure out how NOT to get you the documents, or how much to redact.

Here is the story we wrote in DailyKos after getting some heavily redacted emails from OHS

To request documents from a different state agency, go to that agency’s web page. Here is a link to a generic state of Tennessee open records request form.

Here is an “Open Government Guide” for Tennessee. It is prepared by attorneys, reads something like a legal brief (dense and dull), but it is probably a good chapter-and-verse breakdown.

Aaron Sankin, staff reporter at Center for Investigative Reporting, writes “The Hate Report” for Reveal News – and a bunch of other stuff, and he is experienced (more than me) at clawing info out of government scoundrels. I reached out to Aaron recently for advice. He said FBI is the worst to try to get info from and that they have several pending lawsuits against FBI to release info. He said suing them is usually what it takes to pry info from FBI.

Here is what he wrote to me, in the format of a model request with citations:

To Whom It May Concern: 

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I am a reporter seeking all documents and records regarding XXXXXXXX.
More specifically, I hereby request XXXXXXXXX.

Please limit the date range of this search to between XXXXXXXXX and the date when the search for responsive records is carried out.

In addition to the records requested above, I request records describing the processing of this request, including records sufficient to identify search terms, locations and custodians searched, as well as any tracking sheets used to track the processing of this request. 

If XXXXXXXXX uses FOIA questionnaires or certifications completed by individual custodians or components to determine whether they possess responsive materials or to describe how they conducted searches, I also request any such records prepared in connection with the processing of this request.

I seek all responsive records regardless of format, medium, or physical characteristics. In conducting your search, please understand the term “communications” in its broadest sense, to include any written, typed, recorded, graphic, printed, or audio material. I seek records of any kind, including electronic records, audiotapes, videotapes, and photographs, as well as letters, emails, facsimiles, telephone messages, voice mail messages and transcripts, notes, or minutes of any meetings, telephone conversations or discussions. Our request includes any attachments to these records. No category of material should be omitted from search, collection, and production.

Please search all investigative and non-investigative files. Also, please exclude all news articles and duplicate emails from the search results. 


***In addition, please ensure the FBI searches its case management system (the Automated Case Management System), its administrative records (which hold information from contractors or others—who perform work for the FBI), its Operational Technology Division (which develops and deploys technology-based solutions for the FBI’s intelligence), Records Management Division, email management system, Electronic Surveillance (ELSUR) Data Management System, or any “compliance audits” (also known as “Quality Assurance Reviews”).*** 

You may not exclude searches of files or emails in the personal custody of your officials, such as personal email accounts. Records of official business conducted using unofficial systems or stored outside of official files is subject to the Federal Records Act and FOIA. It is not adequate to rely on policies and procedures that require officials to move such information to official systems within a certain period of time; I have a right to records contained in those files even if material has not yet been moved to official systems or if officials have, through negligence or willfulness, failed to meet their obligations. 

If any potentially responsive records have been destroyed and/or transferred to other agencies or offices, such as the National Archives and Records Agency (NARA), then I request copies of the destruction or transfer slips as well as any other documentation relating to, mentioning or describing said transfer or destruction, to include but not be limited to confirmation that XXXXXXXX has no other copies of said records.

In addition, please note that in conducting a “reasonable search” as required by law, you must employ the most up-to-date technologies and tools available, in addition to searches by individual custodians likely to have responsive information. Recent technology may have rendered XXXXXXXX’s prior FOIA practices unreasonable. In light of the government-wide requirements to manage information electronically by the end of 2016, it is no longer reasonable to rely exclusively on custodian-driven searches. 

Furthermore, agencies that have adopted the NARA Capstone program, or similar policies, now maintain emails in a form that is reasonably likely to be more complete than individual custodians’ files. For example, a custodian may have deleted a responsive email from his or her email program, but XXXXXXX’s archiving tools would capture that email under Capstone. 

Accordingly, I insist that XXXXXXXX use the most up-to-date technologies to search for responsive information and take steps to ensure that the most complete repositories of information are searched. 

Under the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, agencies must adopt a presumption of disclosure, withholding information “only if . . . disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption” or “disclosure is prohibited by law.” 

If it is your position that any portion of the requested records is exempt from disclosure, I request that you provide an index of those documents as required under Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 977 (1974). As you are aware, a Vaughn index must describe each document claimed as exempt with sufficient specificity “to permit a reasoned judgment as to whether the material is actually exempt under FOIA.” Moreover, the Vaughn index “must describe each document or portion thereof withheld, and for each withholding it must discuss the consequences of disclosing the sought-after information.” Further, “the withholding agency must supply ‘a relatively detailed justification, specifically identifying the reasons why a particular exemption is relevant and correlating those claims with the particular part of a withheld document to which they apply.’”

In the event some portions of the requested records are properly exempt from disclosure, please disclose any reasonably segregable nonexempt portions of the requested records. If it is your position that a document contains non-exempt segments, but that those non-exempt segments are so dispersed throughout the document as to make segregation impossible, please state what portion of the document is non-exempt, and how the material is dispersed throughout the document. Claims of non-segregability must be made with the same degree of detail as required for claims of exemptions in a Vaughn index. If a request is denied in whole, please state specifically that it is not reasonable to segregate portions of the record for release.

Please institute a preservation hold on information responsive to this request.

As a member of the news media, I am seeking this information for dissemination to the general public as part of an effort to examine XXXXXXXXXX. This request is made in the public interest and not for commercial use. 

As such, I am requesting a fee waiver of search and review fees as a member of the news media. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4) (A)(iii).  

If this fee waiver is not granted, please notify me if document retrieval and reproduction costs exceed $XXX.

Please furnish all responsive records in electronic, searchable format delivered to my email address XXXXX@XXXXXX.XXX. If that’s not possible, please send records paper printouts sent to the following address: 


All correspondence regarding this request can be directed to me at XXXXXX or (XXX) XXX-XXXX.

Please be aware that under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A), a FOIA request is considered constructively denied after twenty business days and is subject to litigation on that basis. If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. As the law requires, I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt exempt material. 

I reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees. 

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX. Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.