Richmond Police drop case to force return of documents released under FOIA

The ACLU of Virginia has learned that lawyers for the Richmond Police Department do not plan to continue their efforts to force Mo Karn, a member of a local anarchist group, to return police manuals and other documents she received pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request she made last September.

Karn requested the information for Copwatch, a project intended to educate the public about police practices. A lawyer for the city responded in December, supplying Karn with 600 pages of documents, some of which had been redacted to exclude sensitive subject matter. Karn then posted the documents to the website,, managed by her anarchist collective.

Last Tuesday Karn learned that Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood was seeking an order from the Richmond Circuit Court to compel the return of documents. At that time, the ACLU of Virginia agreed to provide legal representation for Karn to argue that she had a First Amendment right to keep and disseminate the documents. On Friday, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg and Dunn Fellow Tom Fitzpatrick filed papers in the circuit court opposing the city’s actions.

“This was the first wise decision the city has made regarding this whole matter,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “The city never had a legal leg to stand on and no practical means, under any circumstances, of retrieving the information once it was posted on the internet.”

“The Supreme Court has consistently held that government documents that make their way into the public domain–especially legally released documents– are protected by the First Amendment,” added Willis. “To allow the government to control the use of information once it is out is a form of censorship.”

“The only mystery that remains is why city officials chose to devote so many resources to this ill-fated case in the first place.”

Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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