Counselor: Fort Wayne violated law by withholding Henry arrest records

IL file photo

Fort Wayne officials violated Indiana’s public records laws by not releasing police body camera footage and other records related to the drunken driving arrest of the city’s mayor, the state’s public access counselor says.

Luke Britt said Tuesday in an advisory opinion that he doesn’t see any policies or legal reason to justify withholding an incident report of body camera footage for Mayor Tom Henry.

He said the city has to have a reason for withholding records on Henry’s October arrest, such as the expectation of privacy for witnesses or victims, a legitimate public safety concern or a belief that disclosure would jeopardize the investigation.

Days after his arrest, Henry pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, endangering a person. The 70-year-old Democrat was sentenced to a suspended one-year jail sentence, and his driver’s license was also suspended for 90 days.

Malak Heiny, the city’s attorney, has maintained the records remain investigatory, even after the case involving Henry was closed, The Journal Gazette reported.

Britt said law enforcement recordings are not considered investigatory records under state law, which cites public interest as a factor to be weighed when releasing body camera footage.

“It would be difficult to imagine a scenario wherein the public interest is greater than a public official running afoul of the law and being held accountable by responding officers,” Britt wrote.

Mayoral spokesman John Perlich said city officials are reviewing Britt’s opinion and will release a formal response “in the near future.”

Britt’s office reviews disputes from the public, government officials and journalists about Indiana’s public records and open meetings laws. When the city refused to release records relating to Henry’s arrest, a reporter filed a formal complaint against the city.

The Journal Gazette and other media organizations also reached out to Britt, who wrote in his opinion that his office notified the city of the formal complaint and offered it an opportunity to respond, which was declined.

According to an arrest report, Henry was swaying, argumentative and had slurred speech when he was arrested Oct. 8. He told officers he drank “too many glasses of wine at a fundraiser.”

After his arrest, Henry’s blood-alcohol level was 0.152% — or nearly twice the state’s limit of 0.08% for driving — according to court records.

Henry, first elected in 2007, plans to run for mayor again in 2023.

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