McDonough Co. (ECWd) –
After receiving a complaint that McDonough County Sheriff Nicholas Petitgout was blocking people from the official Sheriff’s Facebook page, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for a screenshot of the blocked users page on the Sheriff’s official Facebook account. We even provided detailed instructions on how to get to that page so a screenshot could be taken.
Let the games begin.
The Sheriff’s office response was a clear indicator they were not going to do the right thing and provide a copy of the page showing blocked users but rather play games and make claims of exemptions that do not apply.
“The Department does not keep “the records sought” by your request in the ordinary course of business and FOIA does not require the Department to prepare the records sought by you (5 I LCS 140/ I).”
The fact Facebook has those records that are in fact created by the Sheriff’s office makes those records subject to FOIA. For them to claim they don’t keep the record sought shows their ignorance of what constitutes a public record subject to FOIA. We note they did not deny blocking people but instead tried to create excuses to avoid producing a copy of the actual blocked user page.
We filed a request for review with the Attorney General’s PAC office, and I think this is the fastest resolution to a request for review I have ever seen, fourteen days.
They informed the PAC that the Sheriff’s Office has not blocked any users from their page and provided a PDF file of a screenshot, however, the screenshot is not of the appropriate page requested. After advising the PAC and the Sheriff’s office that this is not the screenshot requested, they send another screenshot which showed no one was blocked. That begs the question, when were those who were blocked, unblocked? We ask because we know what they sent was not accurate for the time I asked for the record.
The PAC inquired further and the response they gave the PAC not only conflicts with their initial claim that no one was blocked but provides an explanation that is not even possible in the world of Facebook. The PAC documented the claim in its closing letter.
“This morning, an Assistant Attorney General in the Public Access Bureau contacted the Sheriff’s Office to confirm what transpired with the blocked users list and was told that the administrator of the Facebook page also administers various other Facebook pages that were linked, such that when he unblocked users from his personal page upon receipt of the Request for Review, there were no longer blocked users on the Sheriff’s Office’s official page. Subsequently, I relayed that explanation to you, and you confirmed that the individual who had been blocked on the Sheriff’s Office’s official page was no longer blocked.”
Why would the receipt of a request for review from the AG trigger the administrator of the Sheriff’s Facebook page to unblock users from his personal page?
It is not possible for a person to unblock a person from his personal page and have that action magically take place on the Sheriff’s official page. After receipt of our FOIA request, we know the unblocking took place, and rather than simply disclose the truth of the matter it appears the Sheriff took the path of deception and misrepresentation as his course of action. We note that Sheriff Petitgout is the 2nd Vice President of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association. We mention this because the actions displayed in this simple FOIA request indicate concerns regarding both honesty and transparency, something we would like to believe the Sheriff’s Association supports.
Petitgout is also named in a recent multiple-count civil case to include allegations of Monell liability under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (Failure to Train),(Custom, Policy, and Practice), Wrongful Death, Survival Action, and Indemnification. A copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded at this link.
These games are similar to the ones played when I asked for the actual copies of credit card statements and rather than provide those initially, they provided a self-created financial spreadsheet. After educating them that such a production was not a credit card statement, they later provided the requested statements. Couple that with their refusal to turn over an investigation report that has been released to others and banning certain police officers from stepping foot in the Sheriff’s office it appears there will be many more articles in the future.