Grand Traverse County Sheriff Calls for Privacy, Then Publicizes Arrest Information

The Record Eagle did an article this week questioning the way the prostitution sting cases were handled in court. Their point, which is true, is that many of the cases were pleaded away to deferred sentences. Essentially, the defendants get to walk away at the end of it all without a conviction on their criminal record.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor and Judge-Elect Bob Cooney said justice has still been served because the men were perp walked through the local media.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor’s Office Publicizes Arrest Information, Says it’s Good Policy

Cooney said, “The hope is that the public embarrassment that comes with the crime, the fact that these men were outed to their significant others and family, that they were convicted that this won’t happen again. That’s the hope.”

He goes on: “When people see names in the paper…where the johns themselves are arrested…I would hope that that has some effect on slowing it down.”

So basically, Cooney’s point is that there’s been public shame for the defendants, so it doesn’t really matter if they’re convicted or not. Okay, remember that.

Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office Denies Requested Arrest Information on the Basis of Arrestee Privacy

Contrast this with the time that the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office refused to answer a Freedom of Information Act Request for names of inmates on the basis of inmate privacy. Someone committed suicide in the jail. An attorney for the family sought the names of people in jail at the time. The Sheriff’s office denied the request by arguing that people who are arrested with crimes have a right to privacy about the fact that they’re arrested.

The following are excerpts from a deposition from then-undersheriff Nathan Alger on the matter. Alger’s answers follow the “A.” (A is for Alger.)

Q: Is it the position of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office that individuals who have been charged with crimes are entitled to keep that matter private?

A: To a degree.

Q: What is the basis for redacting?

A: …this either was personal, or private, and embarrassing information…

Q: So what are the standards you use in order to determine if releasing someone’s name would be an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy?

A: It’s a case by case situation…if it’s an unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy.

Q: Can you point to a factor you consider in determining if something is an unwarranted invasion of privacy versus whether it’s not?

A: It’s a case by case situation. We determine if it’s an unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy.

Q: And you did that because … it would be embarrassing for people to be accused of either having been accused of a crime or jailed, correct?

A: Yes…It was explained to me that the fact that they were in jail at the time…they felt that it was an embarrassing situation to have their names released publicly.

Q: Do you think the names of inmates should be released as a matter of course?

A: No.

Q: Is the practice reduced to writing…

A: I don’t think so. It’s just an agreement between the prosecutor’s office and the sheriff’s office…

Deposition of grand traverse county sheriff bensley

Sheriff Bensley’s deposition was similar, except that he admitted to having no training in the Freedom of Information Act, and he passed off responsibility for FOIA decisions on his FOIA coordinator.

Q: In fact, you publicize when people are convicted of crimes, right?

Sheriff Bensley: No, don’t believe so.

Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Cite Privacy, Right-to-Know When it Suits Them

So Sheriff Bensley and Bob Cooney say that arrested people have a right to privacy when it suits them. Then, they turn right around and perp walk other arrested individuals when they want to.

Both Bensley and Alger deny responsibility for denying names of incarcerated inmates. They pass the blame onto civil counsel and their FOIA coordinator, even though the two men were literally and directly responsible for running the sheriff’s office. Alger has since been coronated County Administrator, and Bensley secured a nice raise for the insider that he appointed as Alger’s replacement. It’s the citizens of Grand Traverse County who lose to inconsistent, self-serving policies while the people in power reject transparency and try to control public discourse.

Dirty Traverse.

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