EVERETT — The city is going to court, hoping for some help with a recurring public records headache.
Everett police again have received a demand for copies of 2013 surveillance videos that show bikini baristas flashing customers and otherwise behaving badly.
This time, the person making the Public Records Act request is a convicted child rapist serving two life terms for sex crimes involving multiple victims.
The city last week filed a Snohomish County Superior Court lawsuit seeking a ruling that it need not comply with a records request from inmate Jamie Wallin.
“The Court should not feed this repeat sex offender’s perversions by allowing him to obtain copies of video files that feature young women stripping and engaging in sexual conduct,” assistant city attorneys Ramsey Ramerman and Katie Rathbun said in court papers.
The lawsuit also seeks to revisit the city’s contention that the state’s records law shouldn’t force it to provide copies of videos it believes violate the baristas’ privacy.
The footage was gathered up four years ago as part of an investigation into prostitution and public corruption at sexspresso stands in Everett and elsewhere in Snohomish and King counties. The workers were surreptitiously filmed engaged in a variety of lewd behaviors with customers, mostly baring body parts for tips.
Everett in 2015 fought a losing battle to limit what it must do with demands for copies of the videos. It conceded they are public records and thus subject to disclosure. But it suggested the city could satisfy the law by allowing people who demanded access the opportunity to view the videos while simultaneously refusing to provide copies.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Appel ruled the city’s plan was unlawful; that the records act is clear that people have the right to inspect and to copy government videos and documents.
The city wound up paying $45,000 to Arthur West of Olympia, agreeing to supply him the videos and bringing the litigation to a close. The prolific public records requester represented himself in court, arguing that it was a case about government transparency and following the law. He also was working quietly with an attorney to demand up to $175,000 from the city over how it had responded to his request, documents show.
Controversial records requests are not new territory for Wallin. He has repeatedly sought information that has made police uncomfortable since heading to prison for his most-recent convictions nearly a decade ago.
In 2012 a Snohomish County judge tossed out the inmate’s demands for transcripts from interviews conducted with two child sex abuse victims who had been molested by another offender. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office argued it would be “egregious and shocking to the conscience” to provide Wallin — or any other sex offender — with those details.
The judge not only agreed, he also rejected Wallin’s demand that the county be fined up to $95 a day for refusing to honor his demand.
Wallin remains locked up at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.
Under prison rules he can’t legally possess the barista videos, and the only way he could get them would be to have them somehow smuggled to him behind bars, the city maintains.
That’s grounds to deny his request, the lawyers said.
“Alternatively, if Wallin is not planning on engaging in illegal activity by smuggling the videos into prison, then he has no legitimate reason for requesting the videos and has made the request to the city for the purposes of harassing the city and in hopes of generating penalties,” the city said in court papers.
State law allows the court to enjoin inmates from making records requests for improper purposes. Potentially adding weight to the city’s case: Wallin previously ran afoul of the law for attempting to court a 16-year-old Snohomish County barista while he was on supervision for a prior molestation conviction, records show.
Ramerman said the city has continued to study evolving case law regarding the intersection of public records and privacy rights and the legal issues raised by the barista videos.
The baristas have Fourteenth Amendment privacy protections, Ramerman said. The city continues to worry that at some point, release of the videos will result in them being published to the Internet.
“The baristas’ right to bodily privacy has not been waived by their voluntary exposures to customers at coffee stands because the scope of these in-person exposures were subject to physical and temporal limitations and the production of the videos would exceed that exposure by orders of magnitude,” the city said in court papers.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.