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Prison Legal News v. Executive Office for US Attorneys, Freedom of Information Act BOP Video Lawsuit Complaint. 2008.

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Case 1:08-cv-01055-MSK

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Filed 05/20/2008

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Civil Action No.
PRISON LEGAL NEWS,
Plaintiff,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS,
Defendant.
COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF
Prison Legal News, by and through its attorneys, Gail K. Johnson and Ari Krichiver of
Smith & West, LLC, hereby states:
INTRODUCTION
Prison Legal News (PLN) is a legal journal that reports news and litigation concerning
detention facilities and prisoners’ rights. On March 12, 2007, pursuant to the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, et seq., PLN submitted a request to the United States
Attorney’s Office in Denver, Colorado, for certain exhibits of the U.S. government in the federal
capital trial of William Sablan, namely, a videotape and/or DVD and still photographs relating to
the murder of an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado (USP-Florence).
The FOIA request was denied, as was PLN’s administrative appeal of the denial of the request.
Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), PLN now seeks a declaration that the Executive Office for
United States Attorneys (EOUSA) improperly withheld the requested records and an order
requiring the EOUSA to produce the requested records to PLN.

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JURISDICTION AND VENUE
1.

Jurisdiction of this Court is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and this action is
authorized and instituted pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B).

2.

Venue is proper pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B), as the requested records are situated
in the District of Colorado.
PARTIES

3.

Plaintiff PLN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which, via a monthly legal journal as
well as on its website, reports news and provides analysis concerning prisoners’ rights
issues, prisoners’ rights litigation, and other news about prison issues. PLN is
headquartered and resides at 2400 N.W. 80th Street #148, in Seattle, Washington.

4.

Defendant EOUSA is an agency of the United States and is charged with enforcing the
laws of the United States. EOUSA is the official record-keeper for all records located in
the various United States Attorney’s Offices, including the United States Attorney’s
Office for the District of Colorado. The records requested in this action are currently in
the possession of Defendant EOUSA.
FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

5.

Joey Jesus Estrella was a federal inmate at USP-Florence who was murdered in his prison
cell on October 10, 1999.

6.

USP-Florence is a high-security facility of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

7.

At the time of Mr. Estrella’s murder, the BOP was housing him and two other inmates in
the same cell.

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The two other inmates housed in the USP-Florence cell with Mr. Estrella at the time of
his murder were William Concepcion Sablan and Rudy Cabrera Sablan.

9.

Prior to Mr. Estrella’s murder, one or more BOP officials received at least one electronic
distress call from the cell where Mr. Estrella was housed with William Sablan and Rudy
Sablan.

10.

Prior to Mr. Estrella’s murder, one or more BOP officials failed to respond to at least one
electronic distress call from the cell where Mr. Estrella was housed with William Sablan
and Rudy Sablan.

11.

Following Mr. Estrella’s murder, the BOP took video or digital moving images of the
exterior of the cell where Mr. Estrella was killed.

12.

Following Mr. Estrella’s murder, the BOP took video or digital moving images of the
interior of the cell where Mr. Estrella was killed.

13.

The video or digital moving images of the interior of the cell where Mr. Estrella was
killed show the conduct of William Sablan and Rudy Sablan in the cell after Mr.
Estrella’s murder.

14.

Upon information and belief, the video or digital moving images of the interior of the cell
where Mr. Estrella was killed show mutilation of Mr. Estrella’s body by William Sablan
and Rudy Sablan.

15.

Upon information and belief, the video or digital moving images of the interior of the cell
where Mr. Estrella was killed show William Sablan purporting to drink Mr. Estrella’s
blood.

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Upon information and belief, the video or digital moving images of the interior of the cell
where Mr. Estrella was killed show one or more physical injuries on William Sablan’s
body.

17.

Upon information and belief, the video or digital moving images of the interior of the cell
where Mr. Estrella was killed show William Sablan and Rudy Sablan discussing the
destruction of evidence related to Mr. Estrella’s murder.

18.

Upon information and belief, the video or digital moving images of the interior of the cell
where Mr. Estrella was killed show William Sablan and Rudy Sablan carrying out the
destruction of evidence relate to Mr. Estrella’s murder.

19.

Upon information and belief, the video or digital moving images taken by the BOP
include footage of the “cell extraction” of William Sablan and Rudy Sablan, that is,
prison officials’ removal of William Sablan and Rudy Sablan from the cell.

20.

Upon information and belief, a blood test performed on William Sablan’s blood
following Mr. Estrella’s murder indicated that William Sablan was intoxicated with
alcohol.

21.

Upon information and belief, William Sablan had become intoxicated with alcohol on the
night of Mr. Estrella’s murder as a result of having drunk prison “hooch,” or homemade
alcohol fermented inside the prison cell.

22.

Upon information and belief, a blood test performed on Rudy Sablan’s blood following
Mr. Estrella’s murder indicated that Rudy Sablan was intoxicated with alcohol.

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Upon information and belief, Rudy Sablan had become intoxicated with alcohol on the
night of Mr. Estrella’s murder as a result of having drunk prison “hooch,” or homemade
alcohol fermented inside the prison cell.

24.

Following Mr. Estrella’s murder, officials of the United States took still photographs of
Mr. Estrella’s body.

25.

The United States prosecuted both William Sablan and Rudy Sablan for the murder of
Mr. Estrella. (U.S. v. Sablan, Criminal Action No. 1:00-cr-00531-WYD, United States
District Court for the District of Colorado.)

26.

The United States sought the federal death penalty against William Sablan and Rudy
Sablan based on the murder of Mr. Estrella and the mutilation of Mr. Estrella’s body.

27.

William Sablan, through the attorneys representing him in his capital criminal case,
received copies of the trial exhibits that are the subject of FOIA request 07-903.

28.

Rudy Sablan, through the attorneys representing him in his capital criminal case, received
copies of the trial exhibits that are the subject of FOIA request 07-903.

29.

The Honorable Wiley Y. Daniel severed William Sablan’s and Rudy Sablan’s cases for
trial.

30.

During the trial of William Sablan, which was conducted between January 22, 2007 and
March 15, 2007, the video or digital moving images taken in connection with Mr.
Estrella’s murder were admitted into evidence as an exhibit of the United States.

31.

Upon information and belief, the exhibit containing the video or digital moving images
taken in connection with Mr. Estrella’s murder was not placed under seal when it was
introduced into evidence at William Sablan’s trial.

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32.

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Upon information and belief, when introduced into evidence as an exhibit at William
Sablan’s trial, the exhibit containing the video or digital moving images taken in
connection with Mr. Estrella’s murder was displayed on monitors throughout the
courtroom.

33.

Upon information and belief, when introduced into evidence as an exhibit at William
Sablan’s trial, the exhibit containing the video or digital moving images taken in
connection with Mr. Estrella’s murder was displayed on one or more monitors placed for
the sole purpose of enabling members of the public seated in the courtroom audience to
view the images.

34.

During the trial of William Sablan, still photographs of Mr. Estrella’s body were admitted
into evidence as one or more exhibits of the United States.

35.

Upon information and belief, these still photographs of Mr. Estrella’s body were not
placed under seal when they were introduced into evidence as one or more exhibits at
William Sablan’s trial.

36.

Upon information and belief, when introduced into evidence at William Sablan’s trial,
these still photographs of Mr. Estrella’s body were displayed on monitors throughout the
courtroom.

37.

Upon information and belief, when introduced into evidence as an exhibit at William
Sablan’s trial, these still photographs of Mr. Estrella’s body were displayed on one or
more monitors placed for the sole purpose of enabling members of the public seated in
the courtroom audience to view the photographs.

38.

William Sablan was convicted for the murder of Mr. Estrella.

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39.

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The United States failed to obtain a unanimous jury verdict for the death penalty against
William Sablan.

40.

William Sablan received a sentence of life in prison for the murder of Mr. Estrella.

41.

By letter dated March 12, 2007, PLN made a FOIA request to the United States
Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado seeking the production of the following
records:
The complete videotape and/or the DVD created therefrom taken by USP Florence
staff related to the October 10, 1999 death of Joey Jesus Estrella at USP Florence,
listed as Exhibit No. 20 on an Exhibit List dated Jan. 22, 2007 that was filed by the
U.S. Attorney’s Office in USA v. Sablan, U.S. District Court for Colorado, Case No.
1:00-cr-00531-WYD [and] still photographs of the body of Joey Jesus Estrella, listed
as Exhibits 168 through 177D, inclusive, on an Exhibit List dated Jan. 22, 2007 that
was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in USA v. Sablan, U.S. District Court for
Colorado, Case No. 1:00-cr-00531-WYD.

42.

The United States numbered PLN’s FOIA request “Request No. 07-903.”

43.

By letter dated May 15, 2007, Defendant EOUSA issued a “full denial” of Request No.
07-903.

44.

By letter dated July 12, 2007, PLN submitted an administrative appeal of Defendant
EOUSA’s denial of Request No. 07-903.

45.

The United States later numbered PLN’s administrative FOIA appeal “Appeal No.
07-1937.”

46.

By letter dated November 19, 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice denied Appeal No.
07-1937, asserting that Defendant EOUSA had properly withheld the requested records
pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A), (B), & (C).

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47.

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In April 2008, during the trial of Rudy Sablan, the video and/or digital moving images
taken in connection with Mr. Estrella’s murder and the still photographs of Mr. Estrella’s
body were admitted into evidence as exhibits of the United States.

48.

These exhibits were not placed under seal when they were introduced into evidence at
Rudy Sablan’s trial.

49.

These exhibits were displayed on monitors throughout the courtroom during Rudy
Sablan’s trial.

50.

During Rudy Sablan’s trial, these exhibits were displayed on one or more monitors
placed for the sole purpose of enabling members of the public seated in the courtroom
audience to view the images.

51.

Rudy Sablan was convicted for the murder of Mr. Estrella.

52.

The United States has not prosecuted anyone other than William Sablan and Rudy Sablan
for the murder of Mr. Estrella.
CLAIM FOR RELIEF
Injunctive Relief to Order Production of Records Improperly Withheld

53.

PLN realleges and incorporates paragraphs 1-52 as if fully set forth herein.

54.

Defendant EOUSA’s denial of PLN’s FOIA Request No. 07-903 was improper.

55.

The requested records are public records subject to production under FOIA absent the
applicability of a specific statutory exemption.

56.

Production of the requested records could not reasonably be expected to interfere with
any law enforcement proceedings.

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57.

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Production of the requested records would not deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or
an impartial adjudication.

58.

Production of the requested records could not reasonably be expected to constitute an
unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

59.

No personal privacy interests would be implicated by the production of the requested
records.

60.

To the extent that any personal privacy interests may have existed in the content of the
requested records, those personal privacy interests have been waived or are otherwise
extinguished.

61.

To the extent that any personal privacy interests may have existed in the content of the
requested records that have not been waived or otherwise become extinguished, the
invasion of such personal privacy interests would not be unwarranted, in light of the
public interest in production of the requested records.

62.

The public has an interest in being informed about the BOP’s performance of its
constitutional duties.

63.

The public has an interest in being informed about the BOP’s performance of its statutory
duties.

64.

Production of the requested records would shed light on the BOP’s performance of its
constitutional and statutory duties.

65.

Production of the requested records would contribute to the public’s understanding of the
operations and activities of the BOP.

66.

Production of the requested records would subject the BOP to public scrutiny.

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67.

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The public has an interest in being informed about circumstances related to the U.S.
government’s decision to seek the federal death penalty against William Sablan and Rudy
Sablan.

68.

Production of the requested records would significantly contribute to public
understanding of the operations or activities of the United States government.

69.

The public’s interests in the disclosure of the requested records outweigh any personal
privacy interests that may be invaded upon the production of the records.
PRAYER FOR RELIEF
Wherefore, PLN respectfully requests that this Court enter judgment against Defendant

for:
a. A declaration that the EOUSA’s denial of FOIA Request No. 07-903 was improper;
b. An injunction ordering the EOUSA to produce to PLN the records requested in FOIA
Request No. 07-903;
c. Attorney’s fees and litigation costs pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E); and
d. Such further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
Respectfully submitted this 20th day of May, 2008.

SMITH & WEST, LLC
s/ Gail K. Johnson____
Gail K. Johnson
Ari Krichiver
1860 Blake St., Ste. 420
Denver, CO 80202
phone: 303-391-0100
fax: 303-391-0102
info@smithandwest.com
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Document 1

Plaintiff’s Address:
Prison Legal News
2400 N.W. 80th St. #148
Seattle, WA 98117

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