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ACLU involves itself in Richmond FOIA case

The ACLU of Virginia has agreed to represent Mo Karn, a member of a local anarchist group, who received notice earlier this week that Richmond City Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood is seeking a court order to compel the return of documents she obtained through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and to prohibit her from disclosing the documents.

Last September, Karn requested the information for Copwatch, a project intended to educate the public about police practices. The Richmond Police Department responded in December, supplying her with nearly 600 pages of police manuals and other documents, some of which had been redacted to exclude sensitive subject matter. The documents were then posted on a website,, managed by her anarchist collective in late December.

But on Jan. 4, Karn was served with papers informing her that the City of Richmond and the Police Department had filed an emergency motion with the Richmond Circuit Court to force her to return of some of the documents.

“There are both First Amendment principles and practical considerations at play here, and the City of Richmond has failed on both counts,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Once the government has released documents, the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to do with them as they please. Any attempt to restrict the dissemination of the information is censorship, pure and simple.”

“As a practical matter, how in the world does the Police Department propose to recapture information that has been placed on the internet?” added Willis. “Also, didn’t it occur to them that by taking this highly public and very questionable legal action they are only encouraging people to read these documents?”

The city’s legal papers, including a list of the documents it wants back, are available online. The complaint can be found at The motion for injunction can be found at

The city’s court papers do not state a legal argument for requiring the documents to be returned. The ACLU of Virginia, which will file its own court papers soon, will cite U.S. Supreme Court precedents making it clear that the government, except under the most extreme circumstances, cannot restrict the use of legally obtained information.

ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg and Dunn Fellow Tom Fitzpatrick represent Karn.

Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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