Mostly clear

Owners kept in the dark about why police raided their home

In Kansas, police agencies are not obligated to turn over documents related to search warrants, affidavits and internal investigations. In fact, such documents are presumptively sealed. One has to persuade a judge to force the police to release them.

As we here at the (Washington Post) Watch have previously reported, the Kansas couple Robert and Addie Harte spent $25,000 in legal fees trying to obtain documents that would explain why their home was raided by a SWAT team in 2012. (When they finally got the documents, they discovered that the police had mistaken loose-leaf tea in the couple's trash for marijuana.)

Another woman, Joy Biggs, has been unable to obtain information on why her sister died in a Kansas jail cell after she was arrested for speeding.

This is one of the strictest such laws in the country. So Republican state Rep. John Rubin recently introduced a bill that would make such records presumptively available.

After a bill passed the Kansas House, 113 to 10, the state Senate watered it down by removing arrest records from the class of documents covered and putting more restrictions on public access to police records.

My sources in Kansas say these amendments were added at the urging of prosecutors. They were inserted by Republican state Sen. Jeff King, whose web site boasts that he works "tirelessly as a friend of law enforcement."

He certainly does — to the point of making it nearly impossible for people victimized by law enforcement to obtain accountability.

Supporters of the bill say that King's amendments have rendered it mostly useless. The Senate majority leader, Terry Bruce, a Republican, said he won't allow the legislation to come to the floor for a vote. Bruce did leave open the possibility of revisiting the bill if the House and Senate can iron out their differences about its scope.

Meanwhile, Kansas police agencies will continue to operate in the dark. No transparency. No accountability.

In an e-mail to me Thursday morning, Addie Harte put her reaction rather succinctly: "I am disgusted."

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