Friday, July 4, 2014

CNN files lawsuit against Blaine County

News agency seeks police information on Bergdahl family


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

National news media attention continues to focus on Bowe Bergdahl and his family. Cable News Network last week filed a lawsuit against Blaine County for disclosure of a report from a police investigation involving the family in 1999.

     Cable News Network has filed a lawsuit against Blaine County seeking information from a 1999 police investigation involving the family of Bowe Bergdahl, the Wood River Valley soldier who spent five years in captivity of the Taliban.

     The lawsuit was filed on behalf of CNN in Blaine County 5th District Court on June 25 by attorney Debora K. Kristensen of the Boise law firm Givens Pursley. The CNN complaint claims that the report from a 1999 investigation by the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office involving the Bergdahls is subject to disclosure pursuant to Idaho public records statutes.

     Release of the report has twice been denied to CNN by Sheriff Gene Ramsey.

     “I have declined to release the report because I feel it should be exempt from disclosure because it would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” Ramsey said in an interview Wednesday. The sheriff further explained that report comes from “an investigation in 1999 in which no charges were filed.”

     In correspondence to CNN, Ramsey based his refusal to release the report on Idaho Code 9-335, a statute pertaining to documents exempt from public disclosure and specifically exempting documents that would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

     CNN is seeking a court order requiring release of the report. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 2 p.m. on July 21 before Judge Robert J. Elgee.

     Bergdahl, 28, a U.S. Army sergeant from Hailey, has received national and international news media attention since his capture in Afghanistan on or about June 30, 2009. News media attention intensified after Bergdahl was released by Taliban forces in exchange May 31 for five Taliban prisoners held by the United States.

 

CNN complaint

     The CNN lawsuit stems from a public records request filed with Ramsey on June 11 by CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera, based in Dallas, and CNN producer Rosalina Nieves, based in Los Angeles. In the request, CNN asked for “all documents related to law enforcement activities involving members of the Bergdahl family—Robert, Jani, Bowe and Sky—and/or reports at the Bergdahl residence” on Croy Creek Road “from 1986 to the present.”

     Ramsey responded the same day by providing reports on three investigations involving the Bergdahls, one on March 27, 1998, another on Jan. 30, 2013, and a third on Aug. 25, 2013. However, the sheriff referenced but declined to release a report from an investigation on Nov. 4, 1999.

     CNN, through its attorney Kristensen, responded to Ramsey’s reply on June 18. In the reply, Kristensen alleged that failure to disclose the document violated Idaho public records law and Idaho Supreme Court guidance that exemptions be “construed narrowly.” Kristensen claimed that a redacted version, wherein portions of the document could be blacked out, would be acceptable to CNN. Kristensen further threatened legal action to obtain the “record in its entirety or, at the very least, relevant information contained therein.”

     Ramsey responded with his second refusal on June 20, which was followed by the filing of the lawsuit five days later.

     The three investigative reports Ramsey provided to CNN are also partially redacted but provide sufficient information to ascertain the purpose behind the police investigation. All three reports are attached as exhibits to the CNN complaint.

     The March 27, 1998, investigation involves a report by the Bergdahl family of someone driving by the Bergdahl residence and shooting out the rear window of one of their vehicles with a pellet gun. According to the report compiled by former Deputy Ron Taylor, Bowe Bergdahl, then 12, witnessed the shooting. There is nothing in the report to indicate whether or not the culprit was apprehended.

     The Jan. 29, 2013, report involves a welfare check requested by Idaho Falls resident Tyler J. Webb, who wanted to know the living conditions of his children, in custody of his estranged wife Shekinah A. Davies, who was staying then at the Bergdahl home. Deputy Kristen Quinton wrote in her report that she visited the Bergdahl home and reported back to Webb that the “children were safe and well taken care of.”

     The Aug. 25, 2013, report involves a potential “road rage” incident involving Bowe Bergdahl’s father Bob Bergdahl and his mother Jani Bergdahl. According to a report, compiled by Deputy Quinton, the Bergdahls on their motorcycles followed a man, identified as Sun Valley resident Ignacio Eugenio Lozano, who they claimed cut them off in his vehicle where the northbound lanes of state Highway 75 merge from two lanes into one just north of East Fork Road. The report states that Lozano, suspicious that he was being followed, drove to the Sun Valley Police Department office and was followed there by the Bergdahls. After discussion with police about the incident, Quinton wrote that both parties apologized.

 

Undisclosed reports

     According to Blaine County court records, there was another Sheriff’s Office investigation involving the Bergdahls that was not disclosed to CNN.

     Court records state that Jani Bergdahl was convicted in 2007 of a “vicious dogs” misdemeanor violation. She pleaded guilty, was given a 10-day suspended jail sentence and fined $225.50.

     Court records also show a case involving Bowe Bergdahl. However, the case is sealed, making it impossible without a court order changing the case’s status to discern when the case was filed or whether it was a civil or criminal action. All that currently can be ascertained from the court listing is that Bowe Bergdahl was named as a party in the case.




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