The city of Minneapolis has settled a public records lawsuit brought by local journalist Tony Webster, who was investigating disciplinary files of Minneapolis police officers.
The $100,000 settlement, approved unanimously on Thursday by the Minneapolis City Council, will go toward covering legal costs Webster incurred as he fought for access to public records.
"I'm hopeful now that they see that if they don't comply with the law they're going to be sued and there are consequences to ignoring the law," Webster said following the vote. "My hope is that they'll invest more in complying with the law."
Council members did not comment on the issue during the Thursday meeting.
Webster filed the lawsuit in October 2019 amid mounting demands for transparency and police accountability.
"One way that you can actually see how police officers are held accountable or not is by reviewing discipline records," he said. "The law says that it's public and I didn't know what I'd find. ... I knew there would be a lot of uncovered stories."
The request started out amicably.
"They said they didn't think it would be that difficult, that they had everything prepared," Webster said. "After I sent in the request, they ignored me, then ignored me some more and it was clear I wasn't getting anything so I sued."
For about eight months after the suit was filed, Webster didn't receive a single file. Then one day he got back 3,300 pages filled with complaints and internal investigations into officers. Webster went on to report stories from an officer striking a teenager to another who told Somali American teens "he was proud U.S. troops killed 'you folk' during Black Hawk Down."
He hopes the result of the lawsuit serves as a lesson for the city to respond to public record requests appropriately and that other government agencies in the city will follow suit.
One solution to the issue is stronger enforcement remedies in place in other states.
"I hear from reporters a lot who get deficient responses and there's really not much that they can do about it," Webster said. "Because your remedy is essentially bringing a full-blown lawsuit and that's not efficient for anyone."