Judge rules in SPD dash-cam video lawsuit

SEATTLE -- Tonight, a major victory in the fight to hold the Seattle Police Department accountable to the public.

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers sued the Seattle Police Department for withholding dash-cam videos -- videos that have proven to be damning, even incriminating, for the department.

A King County judge has fined the department for not giving KOMO 4 database information about the videos, but he still says Seattle police can withhold dash-cam video from the public for three years.

Those dash-cam videos can supply potentially critical evidence. They're also public records.

That's why KOMO sued the police department for not releasing the public records, which the media and the public has the right to see.

"The public should have access to these videos," said KOMO attorney Judith Endejan.

KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder spent more than a year investigating the department and fighting for access to the police videos recorded on the dashboard of their patrol cars.

"These videos are clearly public record and the thing that's ironic is when the system was purchased several years ago by the city, the police chief the mayor, they all touted the fact that we were spending several millions of dollars to improve public accountability," Endejan said.

Judge Jim Rogers has now ruled that SPD was wrong for stonewalling KOMO's request. But he did side with SPD when it comes to how the city can lawfully delay disclosure of dash-cam videos until the "final disposition" of any civil or criminal proceedings.

As far as the city is concerned, they can withhold the release of recordings for up to three years, which is the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits.

"We believe that any citizen should have the right to examine Seattle police car videos that they paid for," Endejan said.

The department does hang on to videos it needs for things like prosecutions and internal affairs or during lawsuits filed before they three-year deadline.

What you may not realize is that the videos can be legally destroyed by police before they can be released through the Public Disclosure Act.

"Why they would take the narrowest interpretation to allow them to basically broadly say we're not giving you these videos is very concerning," Endejan said.

Rogers said KOMO was right in arguing the fact that this all poses a "catch-22" for people looking for dash-cam videos, especially when the public disclosure requests can be lengthy to create.

"The public deserves better," Endejan said.

KOMO News disagrees with the judge's decision to allow Seattle police to continue to withhold dash-cam videos and will keep fighting for access to those videos.