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Hearing on PLN public records suit in Marshall County, TN turns bizarre

WSMV Channel 4, June 5, 2014.

Sheriff calls Homeland Security on man requesting public records

Posted: Jun 04, 2014 11:48 PM CDTUpdated: Jun 05, 2014 10:29 AM CDT


A man who says all he wanted was some public information instead got a visit from a Middle Tennessee sheriff. And he says the sheriff is going through great lengths to cover up alleged misconduct at the Marshall County jail.

Alex Friedmann, editor for the Prison Legal News, has been working on a piece about complaints coming out of the jail. He's now suing Sheriff Normal Dalton for refusing to release public records of alleged questionable practices in the prison system.

"It included policies regarding medical care for inmates, the contract with the jail to provide phone calls to inmates, the grievance procedure process for inmates who complain," Friedmann said.

Not only did the sheriff's office deny him those requests, but Dalton admitted on the witness stand to ordering background checks on Friedmann, calling the Department of Homeland Security and even going to Friedmann's house.

"I think that's very alarming and very disturbing that a law enforcement officer can do a background check, and in this case actually drove in to check my residence in person just because I filed a public records request with his agency," Friedmann said.

Those are all things, Dalton's attorney says, were done to protect the jail.

"Like the sheriff said on the witness stand, if he is not personally familiar with the person requesting or knows that they are a resident, then he has a right - he has an obligation - to make sure they are a resident of the state of Tennessee," said defense attorney William Haywood.

"The only reason they gave for denying the request is that I had to come in in person, which, again, is a violation of state law. And, in fact, the Open Records Council for Tennessee told them that that was not a requirement, and yet they repeatedly cited that as a reason for denying my request," Friedmann said.

Bail bondsman Mike Farrar said he was denied jail records as well, but this case is much deeper than a records request. He says it's about revealing long-standing problems with how inmates are treated in Marshall County.

"They feed them here just twice a day instead of three meals. They eat at 6 o'clock in the morning and 6 o'clock in the evening only. But they sell commissary here that the sheriff's department gets commission off of," Farrar said.

After court, Dalton's attorney said he no longer questions Friedmann's rights to have the records and hopes the judge will grant him access. The judge took the decision under advisement and will wait to put his verdict in a formal written opinion in the next few days.

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