(CN) – An Oklahoma sheriff refuses to hand over records of a secret Internet database that tracks activities of thousands of citizens never charged with a crime, says the ACLU in court.
The ACLU in Oklahoma sued Logan County Sheriff Jim Bauman in Logan County Court on Sept. 11, seeking records from the “Black Asphalt” database. Logan County is just north of Oklahoma City. Its seat is Guthrie.
The system was created by Joe David, the founder of Guthrie-based Desert Snow LLC, the ACLU says.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, the ACLU claims it discovered Black Asphalt during an investigation of Desert Snow employees impersonating police officers in Caddo County in 2013, “as part of a scheme with the local district attorney to make traffic stops, seize cash and property from citizens, and funnel it into local coffers in exchange for a percentage of the profits.”
Caddo County is southwest of Oklahoma City. Its seat is Anadarko.
Sheriff Bauman has been in control of the database since August 2012, the complaint states.
Database entries “are not subjected to any requirement that the information within them be legally obtained or released by the subjects, or that there be probable cause or even reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing for information to be recorded and posted,” the ACLU says.
“The Black Asphalt system allows law enforcement officers to make reports and compare information regarding criminal investigations and findings that are never disclosed to prosecutors, defense attorneys, or courts as part of the criminal discovery process, creating a substantial violation of due process rights or an unknown number of citizens, presumably numerous,” the complaint states.
“On information and belief, the Black Asphalt system, since its inception, has had up to 25,000 members throughout the United States and Canada.”
The information posted on Black Asphalt “routinely lead to the detention, arrest or prosecution” of its members, the ACLU says in the lawsuit.
It says it “received no response of any kind” to its February request for disclosure and inspection of records.
In an Aug. 1 letter to Bauman, the ACLU warned he may be trying to avoid disclosure by announcing in June that control of the database records would move to the Kane County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois.
Five days later, the complaint states, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson was denied access to records in person at Bauman’s office.
Henderson said the database “appears to be one of the most disturbing and egregious violations of the rights of American citizens in recent memory.”
“I can understand why Sheriff Bauman might not want to turn over records of his significant involvement with it, but Bauman does not have the right to disregard Oklahoma’s Open Records Act,” Henderson said in a statement.
Bauman could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The ACLU seeks injunctive and declaratory relief under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. It is represented by Henderson and Ryan Kiesel with the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation in Oklahoma City.
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