WASHINGTON - A new lawsuit alleges the Metropolitan Police Department delays or denies public record responses based on who is requesting them.
The suit was filed by public defender Amy Phillips, and a whistleblower who worked in MPD's Freedom of Information office but has since retired.
The suit alleges former police chief Peter Newsham, who's now chief in Prince William County, had an unofficial policy to either delay, obstruct, or improperly redact some public records when requested by certain critical advocates or news reporters.
"My understanding was that it was more about the nature of the request than the number of them," Phillips told FOX 5. "I was requesting information about things that had the potential to embarrass the department."
FOX 5 anchor Marina Marraco's name appears in the lawsuit. Marraco's name appears because of a 2018 incident involving a mayor's staffer who generated a police report.
Maracco was originally given a highly redacted version of the police report, went to request a copy in-person, where she got an unredacted version.
Any citizen can request public documents under D.C.'s FOIA law. The allegation in the lawsuit is Marraco and other requests from people deemed critical of MPD were flagged.
The suit also alleges freedom of information requests were screened by the whistleblower – Inspector Vendette Parker – and eventually reported to the police chief.
It claims current police chief Robert Contee has continued this policy.
Mayor Muriel Bowser responded to the allegations by saying: "I do understand the accusation which we take seriously. All FOIA requests should be handled as expeditiously as possible, and I expect that of every agency, so I’ll be looking into that."
MPD released a statement, saying in part, "We do acknowledge the serious nature of the claims. Transparency with our community partners is necessary to maintaining trust and agency accountability. A thorough review of the assertions will be completed and appropriately acted upon."
Prince William County police, who are not involved in the case, say they need to review the suit but that chief Newsham does not comment on pending litigation.