ST. LOUIS – A lawsuit against the St. Louis Division of Corrections has led to the judge determining that the facility “purposefully violated the Sunshine Law” after a request for documents in 2021.

According to the ACLU of Missouri, ArchCity Defenders requested the Division of Correction for records of “use of force reports completed by the correctional staff from October 2020 through present day.” In a release, the division prolonged the anticipated completion date five times, spanning over five months, with no reasonable explanation.

The first three delays were due to “staff availability and access to files/databases to locate responsive records was limited due to the city’s efforts to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.” The following two delays were reasoned by “the Custodian of Records has again advised that additional time is necessary to locate and identify any records responsive to your request…any such records will be conducted to determine whether those records contain any otherwise legally protected information.”

“In fact, Defendant failed to discuss the cause for the delays at all with the custodian of records before providing Plaintiffs with assumed causes for delay and simply stating dates upon which records would be ready—only to repeatedly extend those dates until Plaintiffs filed the instant cause of action. Then, when a lawsuit was filed, the records were turned over nine days later,” the order from the judge said in a release.

While sunshine requests are expected to have a response as soon as possible, there is a three-day time frame where, if the request is not ready, there is a required explanation of the delay and a time frame of when it will be available, according to Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey.

The division is subject to a statutory penalty of $3,000.

“We are grateful that the judge recognized the city’s actions were deliberately taken to thwart the clear law requiring transparency from government actors,” Maureen Hanlon, managing attorney for civil rights litigation at ArchCity Defenders and Plaintiff, said. “These actions are just one of dozens of times we have seen the city, particularly the Division of Corrections, delay and obfuscate their records request responses with simply no explanation. Hopefully, this serves as a wake-up call.”