Why prison guard videos are rarely released to the public
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DRAPER, Utah Videos obtained by KSL Investigators present the first footage of the violence that erupted within prison walls following the 2019 decision to house two rival gangs.
Utah prison officials would not comment on the controversial decision, citing pending litigation. And they never intended for the public to see the surveillance videos of the wars. KSL recorded when parts of the surveillance video of the Jan. 7 and Feb. 13, 2020 presented in open court. Later, KSL Investigators filed a public records request seeking the full video with the Utah Department of Corrections.
That request, filed under the Utah Government Records Access Management Act, was denied.
The Department argued that the surveillance videos are exempt from GRAMA and even if they are not, “the release would endanger the lives and safety of individuals and the safety and security of the Department’s secure facilities.”
KSL appealed that decision, pointing out that parts of the footage had already been released and corrections officers spoke at length about their response to the incident in open court. Additionally, all inmates have moved out of the old Draper prison, the facility shown in the surveillance footage. With major plans underway to redevelop the site, it is certain that the prisoners will not be resettled.
But the department also rejected that appeal, again citing safety and security concerns. Deputy Director James Hudspeth wrote in the objection letter, “only a portion was shown to the court. The Department of Corrections does not have to release footage that has not been released to the public.”
Hudspeth also cited concerns that gang members featured in the videos could face retaliation from rival gangs or their own, if the footage is released.
“Releasing the video endangers those individuals, endangers the safety or security of the correctional facility, and interferes with the incarceration of the offender, as gangs act on what they see in the video,” Hudspeth wrote.
KSL also requested the tapes shown in open court from the Salt Lake County DA’s Office, which denied the request and subsequent appeal. The office cited a recent change to GRAMA that it claims prevents it from releasing records it obtained from another government agency. KSL’s attorneys continue to fight for full public access.
Many families of incarcerated relatives tell KSL Investigators that they want prison officials to experience more transparency and accountability in how they handle people in their custody and respond to incidents of violence.
“They’re playing with people’s lives,” said Alex Veloz, the father of a man recently injured in a fight at the new Salt Lake state prison.
Veloz said with the stakes so high, the public has a right to know more about what goes on inside prison walls.
“What are you trying to hide?” he asked.
By Thursday afternoon, more scenes from the Jan. 7 was brought to the KSL newsroom from outside sources. KSL investigators are in the process of viewing and verifying that video.
Have you come across something that you don’t think is right? KSL investigators want to help. Submit your tip to [email protected] or 385-707-6153 so we can work on it for you.
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