Readers may recall my recent column headlined "Detaining Drew." It shared the saga of Drew Tanner of Searcy's encounters with State Police Trooper Kurt Ziegenhorn at a Wal-Mart in that community.
The store's video cameras captured all phases of their encounters as a plain-clothed Ziegenhorn, assigned to the troop 90 minutes away in Forrest City, confronted Tanner in the Searcy store on Nov. 29, 2014, after noticing Tanner was carrying a firearm in plain sight.
Days later at the same store, Ziegenhorn (this time in uniform and driving a patrol unit) arrived within seconds of Tanner and wound up handcuffing and escorting him outside where Tanner said he was detained beside the cruiser for 20 minutes before being released. The trooper confiscated the concealed-carry permit he'd earlier removed from Tanner's wallet.
Tanner filed complaints with the state police after each encounter.
Six weeks later Searcy police served an arrest warrant on Tanner based on an affidavit Ziegenhorn had filed the day of their second encounter. The charge: Obstructing government operations. Tanner said Ziegenhorn also had listed "carrying a weapon" in the original affidavit but that charge was not included in the warrant.
A circuit judge found Tanner not guilty. But that was not before the young man said he'd spent about $2,000 in legal fees with attorney Shane Ethridge of Hot Springs to achieve that ruling. Despite Ethridge's legal efforts to reclaim Tanner's carry permit, state police after three years have not returned it.
Tanner and his current attorney, Whitfield Hyman of Fort Smith, have since filed a federal civil lawsuit against Ziegenhorn, State Police Director Bill Bryant and public information officer Bill Sadler, alleging 12 counts (most related to the incident), as well as denial of Tanner's Freedom of Information Act requests.
I rehash some of this story today to provide context and because there wasn't space in the initial column to explore the public transparency aspects of this strange case.
Tanner says he's sent seven FOIA requests to the state police over the months, each funneled through Sadler and all related to the handling of his case. Thus far, each request has resulted in his receiving not one of the documents he's sought.
For instance, he said he's asked to see the dispatch logs for Ziegenhorn on the days he confronted Tanner in Searcy when the trooper was assigned to Forrest City. He also seeks all emails sent to Ziegenhorn on his work computer since the incident and all internal correspondence related to his case, including reports and notes.
He's seeking the trooper's vehicle records and any relevant dashcam logs and related radio chatter. He also wants to see any details of the reported internal investigation into his arrest that determined Ziegenhorn had acted properly.
Email exchanges with Sadler show Tanner's requests have gone unresolved largely because the agency considers the material Tanner seeks to either fall under the exemption for personnel records as they relate to a "clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy," or are unavailable at the state police office and extremely time-consuming and expensive to acquire, review and redact.
Tanner responds that the law is definitely relevant in his case since the information he requests cannot reasonably be considered an unwarranted invasion of the officer's privacy. He said he is only seeking details concerning Ziegenhorn's official involvements regarding Tanner.
The purpose of our Freedom of Information Act is to provide and ensure a transparent government and, whenever necessary, hold government accountable, Tanner added. "It violates the law to wrongfully conceal public information when it is requested under FOIA," said Tanner. "And it applies even to what the police, themselves, ask when they say: 'If you have nothing to hide, why can't I search your vehicle?'
"The same reasoning applies when an involved citizen asks the same thing," he continued. "If there's nothing to hide, why not provide the information I'm asking for?"
Considering the matter is one count in the ongoing lawsuit, I look for much of this back-and-forth to continue, and lots of questions to be resolved when the suit arrives at the discovery phase next year. Meanwhile, the state has until Jan. 5 to respond to Tanner's allegations.
Make a difference
Here's an opportunity to help make a difference. USA Today is sponsoring its Readers' Favorites contest to select the top new national attraction and the top attraction in each state. The nearby Johnny Morris' National Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Mo., has been polling at No. 1 of 20 finalists among new attractions. Better hurry though; the voting at tinyurl.com/newattraction ends Jan. 1.
Our magnificent Buffalo National River is currently running second in our state's ranking as best attraction. It's easy to vote and make your voice heard in this survey, this one for another two weeks. Just go to tinyurl.com/ARattraction and strike the appropriate keys.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 12/31/2017
Print Headline: Tanner matter