Salt Lake County Council supports sheriff not releasing mug shots
Rest easy, those of you booked into the Salt Lake County Jail between Jan. 11 and Jan. 27.
Your mug shots won't be released en masse to the Texas-based founder of bustedmugshots.com, an Internet site that publishes jail booking photos collected from law enforcement agencies.
The Salt Lake County Council decided Tuesday that County Sheriff Jim Winder was justified in rejecting Kyle Prall's request for all 1,388 mug shots taken during that 17-day period (including three weekends). The nine members unanimously endorsed his position that the photographs were classified as "protected records" under terms of the Copyright Act of 1976.
Prall had asked the council to overturn the sheriff's rejection of his request for the pictures via the Government Records Access Management Act (GRAMA). Through attorney David Reimann, he contended the mug shots were "important pieces of information" in the public record and that "GRAMA would be gutted" if government agencies are allowed to declare copyrights on almost every document they produce.
But the council accepted Deputy District Attorney David Johnson's argument that Prall who did not attend the hearing but apparently attempted unsuccessfully to participate over the telephone was exaggerating the threat to the open records concept.
Mug shots are still part of the public record, with a process for their release when requests are made in writing, he said. But the agency is not obligated to make them available in bulk upon demand.
Booking photographs were available to the public on the sheriff's website until Jan. 10, when Winder announced a policy change designed to keep newspapers and Internet sites from publishing them, then charging people to get their pictures removed.
The sheriff went a step further after Prall submitted his request Jan. 25, reclassifying booking photographs as protected copyrighted works.
"Prall essentially asserts that a government entity is forever bound by its initial classification of a record under GRAMA," Johnson advised the council. "Fortunately, GRAMA imposes no such burden on governmental entities, but allows them to re-evaluate and redesignate a record at any time, as the Sheriff's Office did here."
Although Reimann said the council's decision on a GRAMA matter should not "discriminate against people requesting records based on who they are and what they want to use them for," his point failed to impress Councilman David Wilde.
"I don't like what Mr. Prall does," he said, making the motion to support the sheriff's denial of the mug-shot release. The other eight councilmen swiftly agreed.
The County Council formally applauded Gov. Gary Herbert for his rejection last week of an agreement with Nevada to share water from the aquifer beneath the Snake Valley along the state line.
"He deserves a great deal of credit â¦ for a bold decision," said Councilman Jim Bradley, citing Salt Lake County's longtime opposition to the plan to pump water from the desert basin to Las Vegas. County officials believe the result would be increased dust from the west desert that would intensify air quality problems along the Wasatch Front and damage skiing in the Cottonwood canyons.