A&A: How Can I Access Florida Police Body-Camera Videos?

Q: Can you please guide me on how to get police body-worn camera videos from a Florida law enforcement agency that have not been provided in response to a freedom of information act. Nor were they included in discovery for a criminal case. I believe there is damning evidence on the video of police misconduct, obstruction of justice, malicious prosecution et cetera.

What are my options for obtaining video being withheld? Can I hire an attorney to subpoena the video?

A: Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources through this service to provide you with an in-depth analysis of Florida’s Public Records Law. However, I can provide you with some general information that you might find helpful.    

Typically, it would seem that your brother’s attorney should have been able to get a copy of the video through the discovery process, but there may have been a strategic reason why that did not happen and why the attorney did not push for the release of the video.

The first step in obtaining body cam footage would be to submit a written request for the footage to the police department.  While your inquiry references the freedom of information act, it is unclear whether you have submitted a formal public records act request.  Although I am not familiar with Florida’s public records act, a quick review of the law indicates that police records are generally subject to public disclosure unless some exemption applies. Section 119.105 states that “Police records are public records except as otherwise made exempt or confidential.”  In addition, Florida law provides that body camera recordings are confidential and exempt from public disclosure if the recording was taken inside a private residence, health care, mental health care, or social services facility, or in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private.  Florida Statute Section 119.071(2)(1)2.  According to the statute, the recording must be disclosed to certain people, including the person recorded.  Florida Statute Section 119.071(2)(1)4.

In responding to your request, it seems the agency should either disclose the records to you, or if it claims the records are exempt, it should cite the specific exemption and how it applies.  I’m not sure whether you have submitted a formal public records act request, or have simply been communicating with someone at the police department, but you might want to follow-up with the agency regarding your request.  In making such a follow-up inquiry, you might find the Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual: A Reference for Compliance with Florida’s Public Records and Open Meetings Laws helpful.  And, you can also find the text of the Public Records Law here

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries.  In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.