Jacksonville lawyer sounds alarm on hefty quote for public records

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An outspoken local lawyer is crying foul after receiving a $314,000 quote from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in response to a records request about an officer's history.

The Sheriff's Office notified attorney John Phillips it would likely cost that much to provide a list of requested records related to the conduct and disciplinary history of Officer Timothy James -- as well as those detailing how the agency policed itself over the last decade.

James, who's been with the Sheriff's Office for more than three years, has a history of problems. He was arrested last month after a sergeant reported seeing him beat a handcuffed teen. A month earlier, his patrol car struck and killed a pedestrian. Before that, he was accused of spitting on a patient outside UF Health Jacksonville.

"When [the Sheriff's Office] kills someone and then sends a $314,000 bill for public records, when they know they kept a bad officer on the force. #shame," Phillips tweeted Monday night.

READ: Attorney's complete request for public records on officer's history |  
The Sheriff's Office's response to a reporter's questions about the costly estimate

Phillips represents the family of 62-year-old Blane Land, who was killed May 10 while crossing University Boulevard on foot. He said initial speculation by the Sheriff's Office about how the crash happened didn't sit right with him.

"It never passed the smell test," he said. "An hour after the incident they started talking about suicide by this gentleman and whether he was homeless."

Phillips also represents 17-year-old Elias Campos, the teen at the center of the incident that resulted in the officer's arrest. He requested records last month related about the disciplinary history of James. He also sought information detailing the agency's past handling of complaints against officers.

What he got in return was a response he called outrageous: the Sheriff's Office said compiling, redacting and providing those records would cost roughly $314,000.

Reached Tuesday, a Sheriff's Office spokesperson pointed out that Phillips sought 10 years of records on the department's internal investigations in addition to those involving James. The spokesperson said the quote accounts for the time, resources and special accommodations required for a request of that scope.

Phillips said he's never seen such a hefty estimate for a public records request. He views the price tag as a deterrent that may have a chilling effect on future requests. But, he noted, he's not backing down.

"Whether we file a Freedom of Information Act request or we file suit, we are going to get that information," he said. "A judge will let us have most of this information to the extent that it has already been created anyway."

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