A Richmond judge has ordered the removal of sensitive police department information including personal contact information for employees that was posted online by activists.
Judge Gregory L. Rupe of Richmond Circuit Court entered an order last week granting the Richmond Police Department’s request for an injunction in the case against Nathan Cox and Mo Karn, the anarchist who has clashed with police in the past over whether she has a right to publish certain police documents online.
Cox is involved with Virginia CopBlock, an organization that seeks to hold police agencies accountable, and Karn is affiliated with The Wingnut, an anarchist collective in the southern Barton Heights neighborhood.
“The judge’s injunction has led to these documents being taken out of the public domain,” said Andrew Bodoh, an attorney for Karn and Cox.
He added: “Seeing that the documents have been taken down, it raises concerns that the injunction is chilling our clients’ right to free speech and the public’s right to free speech.”
An attorney representing the police department declined to comment. A police spokesman referred a request for comment to the department’s general counsel, who could not be reached on her cellphone.
The case had been sealed until last week.
Attorneys for the police department allege in their complaint that sensitive police information was obtained and posted on Filebin.net, and the judge found that links to the information were made available at WingnutRVA.org and VirginiaCopBlock.org.
According to the department’s complaint, the information placed police officers and other employees in danger and put at risk the success of undercover police operations.
The complaint says that the posted information “will diminish the success of the disclosed undercover police operations and thereby cause harm to the city of Richmond by enabling more crime to occur and by causing a waste of public resources because resources devoted to undercover operations will be wasted, in whole or in part.”
The posted information, according to the complaint, contained names, addresses, phone numbers “and/or other confidential information concerning certain officers and employees of the department who are performing duties and investigations for the department on an undercover basis.”
Bodoh said that an anonymous man in a recent radio interview “indicated that he did find the information on a portable hard drive on the sidewalk near a trash can.”
He added, however, that he does not know where the hard drive supposedly was found, or even whether it was found in the city of Richmond.
Bodoh said he is concerned that the police are violating a section of the Virginia Constitution that states, in part, that “the freedoms of speech and of the press are among the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained except by despotic governments; that any citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.”
Bodoh said that because of these rights guaranteed in the state’s constitution, he and his clients were “concerned about the conduct of the Richmond Police Department and the city of Richmond.”
The city of Richmond has taken legal action before against The Wingnut to recover police documents that were turned over to the anarchist group and posted online.
In January 2011, city officials confirmed that they had ended that legal effort, saying that to press the issue was a waste of resources. The documents at the center of that controversy had been given to Karn by the city after she filed a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood later said in a complaint that the documents provided to Karn by city staff were not required to be released and that “the dissemination of these documents ... jeopardizes and endangers Richmond police officers and citizens.”