ICYMI: Benson Backtracks on Plan to Block Record Releases ICYMI: Benson Backtracks on Plan to Block Record Releases - Michigan Rising Action

ICYMI: Benson Backtracks on Plan to Block Record Releases

ICYMI: Benson Backtracks on Plan to Block Record Releases

April 18, 2022

Lansing, Mich., April 18, 2022 – On Friday afternoon, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced her intention to deny public record requests for driving and vehicle records for “victims of violence”. The policy change, which would run afoul of Michigan law, was met with immediate condemnation from members of the media. Lisa McGraw, Public Affairs Manager of the Michigan Press Association stated, “the best interest of the public at this point is to have the most transparency possible, and that would include the records being discussed here.” 

Benson walked back the policy change after only seven hours. The Detroit News reports:

“Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office announced Friday afternoon it would no longer release to media the driving records of “victims of violence,” including Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man shot by a Grand Rapids police officer during a traffic stop April 4. 

But within seven hours, Benson walked back the statement, saying in a series of tweets that there was no policy switch and there were no changes “to media or public access to such data.”

Secretary Benson’s attempt to conceal public records is the latest attempt by elected Michigan Democrats to skirt the law to benefit politically. In 2021, Bridge Michigan reported that Governor Whitmer’s office reviews FOIA requests to state departments before they are released to the public, even though the Governor’s office itself  is exempt from the law. Benson’s arbitrary policy change directly interferes with the public’s right to know, placing her thumb on the scales of justice. The Detroit News released an editorial panning the move:

“Benson appears to be pandering to her progressive base in setting herself up as a champion of Lyoya and others who die at the hands of police.

In doing so, she’s way out of her lane. The criminal justice system will decide who bears responsibility for the killing. It’s inappropriate for Benson to involve herself in that process by selectively withholding public records.”

Despite Benson’s about-face on the policy change, multiple media outlets have reported that the Benson’s office has still not released requested records according to past practice.

“Jocelyn Benson’s attempt to use the power of her office to withhold public information was a clear attempt to drive a specific narrative that suits her political ambitions,” said Eric Ventimiglia, Executive Director for Michigan Rising Action. Ventimiglia continued, “Despite the about-face on her attempted policy change, it is clear that Benson, along with political allies in Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel, are comfortable working around the law to advance their liberal agenda.”

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