Griffin PD’s bias against The GRIP confirmed; “aggressive” news gathering identified as cause

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

After years of denying The GRIP Publisher Sheila Mathews’ assertions that she has been subjected to unequal, detrimental treatment by Griffin Police Department Chief Mike Yates, former City Manager Kenny Smith acknowledged a “difference” in her professional relationship with the Griffin Police Department.

The November 2020 meeting during which these statements were made addressed the Griffin Police Department’s practice of producing public records to some individuals or organizations while refusing to release the same records to The GRIP. Also discussed was GPD Chief Mike Yates’ ongoing retaliation against Mathews, which Smith had previously referred to as a “pissing contest” before declining to intercede in the contentious situation.

Read about the selective release of public records here:
https://the-grip.net/2022/03/17/exclusive-griffin-police-department-manipulated-public-records-used-civic-group-to-keep-the-minority-community-at-bay/

During this meeting, Smith first denied the disparate treatment before contradicting himself by not only acknowledging the bias against Mathews, but explaining the basis of that different treatment.

“Like I said, I’ve been told that Sheila has been treated just like every other media person, media organization. I think the difference in her case is that, you know, Channel 2, 5 and 11 and those people, WKEU, could give a sh*t less. I’m sorry, you know The Griffin Daily News is not exactly on top of things,” Smith said.

Griffin Mayor Doug Hollberg, who was also present for the meeting, then interjected, “The extent of digging into things. Right.”

“So, she (Mathews) is a little more, um, she’s a little more aggressive, I guess I would say,” Smith said.

“Persistent,” Hollberg suggested.

“Aggressive is fine,” Mathews said. “I’m fine with that.”

“Yeah, in getting the information because like I said, The Griffin Daily News and WKEU couldn’t care less. They aren’t going to go out of their way to get information,” Smith continued. “If you send it to them, they might put it in; they might not. So, she’s (Mathews) a little more persistent and aggressive and I guess that’s the difference in her relationship with the PD and everybody else’s – everybody else don’t (sic) call over there wanting, unless something hits the fan.”

Hollberg, asked, “But in terms of this supposed pattern of resisting giving information just for the sake of not giving information just because I don’t have to versus…It doesn’t impede the scenario that’s going forward? How do we not have to be sitting here in another 12 months or 18 months? Are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing?”

The question of how public records are produced or withheld pursuant to Open Records requests was addressed by current City Manager Jessica O’Connor, who in 2020 served as deputy city manager and city staff attorney.

O’Connor responded that she could not state that the city would always produce public records.

“It’s a case-by-case basis. I mean, I can’t tell you every single time that we are able to disseminate it by Open Records Act that we will or that we won’t. I mean, it just depends on what the situation is, what the case is, what the community involvement is,” she said. “I mean, I can’t give you a hard-and-fast this is what we will do every time. It doesn’t work that way unfortunately. Or I don’t see how it can. I think that’s the whole purpose. That’s the whole purpose. That’s the whole ‘you may’ part.”

Although the November 2020 meeting concluded with the understanding that a legal opinion would be sought from Assistant State Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo, who leads the Georgia Attorney General’s Office’s Open Records mediation program, that legal opinion was not sought until February 2022.

“On occasion, the police department has released certain documents to certain people, while withholding them from others, in an effort to help with an investigation, share them with family members, provide them to the press, etc. The situations constantly differ. Is there a general rule as to whether or not a document becomes required to be produced just because it is produced to one person or entity?” O’Connor asked in a Feb. 10, 2022, email to Colangelo.

O’Connor did not mention in her email to Colangelo that the Mathews’ complaint against the Griffin Police Department’s practice of selectively distributing public records in an organized effort to control the responses of Black residents to Griffin Police Department uses of force and other law enforcement activities was the catalyst of this dispute.

Less than five minutes later, Colangelo responded, stating, “…It doesn’t violate the ORA (Open Records Act) for an agency to release a record to one person but not to another.”

Publisher’s note: Subsequent correspondence with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press supported Mathews’ position that the government may not discriminate at-will with regard to whom public records are produced.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo’s stance.
Additional editorial content related to this subject will be forthcoming.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] “I think the difference in her (Mathews’) case is that, you know, Channel 2, 5, 11 and those people, WKEU, could give a sh*t less. I’m sorry, you know The Griffin Daily News is not exactly on top of things,” Smith said, later adding, “… So, she’s (Mathews) a little more persistent and aggressive and I guess that’s the difference in her relationship with the PD and everybody else’s.”Mathews’ article on the GPD’s bias against The GRIP can be read here:https://the-grip.net/2022/03/18/griffin-pds-bias-against-the-grip-confirmed-aggressive-news-gatherin… […]

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