RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Your safety and the safety of police officers, versus freedom of speech. Those issues will meet head-to-head in a lawsuit filed by Richmond Police.
The controversy surrounds documents released under the Freedom of Information Act -- which police now want returned.
Police Chief Bryan Norwood says the information shouldn't have been released because it could endanger officers and citizens. But the group that got the documents has already posted them on the web, and now has the ACLU on its side.
Police procedure manuals are at the center of this controversy. The manuals are for situations ranging from crowd control to stopping motorists to reporting hate crimes.
Mo Karn is part of a local police watchdog group called Copwatch. She was surprised when she saw the complaint from police several days after receiving the documents.
"First was kind of an 'oh crap'," Karn said. "Then 'what does this mean' because it's pretty intimidating to receive legal documents."
Karn requested the documents using the Freedom of Information Act. She got the ones she wanted but sensitive information had been taken out. Now the police wants the documents back, saying some information that endangers officers was made public when it should have been removed.
"The bigger public safety risk is having police forces that aren't transparent and the people of a city or state can't hold accountable," Karn said. "We need to know their rules to hold them accountable to their rules."
The ACLU says the police have no right to ask for it back.
"I almost didn't believe the story when I first heard it," said Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU. "I've really never heard of a state agency in Virginia asking for information back once it's been released."
The group says it's pointless to give the documents back - they've already been posted on the Internet. Copwatch is run by members of an anarchist group. Members like Eric Scott feel police are targeting them.
"This isn't about the documents," he said. "This is about the documents being in the hands of political dissidents. It's about us being anarchists."
The police department says it does not comment on pending litigation. When asked how the documents endangered police officers, a spokesman said the documents speak for themselves.
Copwatch says it has gotten a lot of comparisons to the recent leaks by Wikileaks. The group says in its case, it didn't steal the documents. Copwatch got them after paying the police department for them.