It's been nearly two months since police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, and many facets of the case remain a mystery to both the media and the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, including the whereabouts of Wilson. But anyone who hopes to uncover more details about the fatal shooting will have a hard time squeezing the details out of the local government: The Ferguson government is charging astronomical fees for the release of Michael Brown shooting records, according to The Associated Press. Critics say the move is an attempt to keep journalists and activists from accessing the records, which may help paint a fuller picture of what happened that day on the streets of Ferguson.
The city of Ferguson has been fielding requests to release certain documents under the Missouri Sunshine Act, and it's been responding in a questionable fashion. The AP reports that the city government is charging up to 10 times the cost of their employees' salaries just to hand over some documents and emails. The news organization discovered this when, asking to receive a group of email accounts related to the Michael Brown case, it was charged $135 an hour. In comparison, the entry-level hourly salary for a city office clerk is $13.90.
The city of Ferguson also reportedly wanted The AP to use a consulting firm to receive the emails on its own — racking up a $2,000 bill. A Ferguson city spokesperson and the city's attorney, Stephanie Karr, declined to comment to The AP about the apparent price gouging.
The AP isn't the only news organization facing exorbitant release fees for city records. Alaska's The Anchorage Press was charged more than $6,000 in fees from the city, forcing the newspaper to withdraw its request. The AP states other news outlets were able to get their hands on emails from the case, for the low price of $725.
The city's reluctance to be transparent in the Michael Brown case has damaged the credibility of its local officials and sparked unrest among residents. After several weeks of peace in the St. Louis suburb, new protests broke out on Sunday night. Ferguson residents believe the protests will continue until the grand jury hands down its decision on whether or not to indict Wilson.
If the grand jury decides not to indict Wilson, residents say the unrest may escalate like never before. "They’re not going to be looting next time," Ferguson resident Kevin Seltzer told The Los Angeles Times.
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