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News / Clark County News

Judge rules against Cowlitz Indian Tribe

Veljacic: Tribe can’t withold video of casino altercation

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
Published: January 8, 2019, 6:02am

A Superior Court judge ruled Thursday against the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, which sued Vancouver attorney D. Angus Lee after he requested that the Clark County Sheriff’s Office hand over video surveillance of an alleged assault in October at the tribe’s ilani casino.

Lee was the second person to ask for the video.

The initial requester, Richard Christie, and the sheriff’s office were sued by the tribe’s gaming authority last year in an effort to prevent the release of the video. However, Christie’s case appears to be stalled in court because he withdrew his request for the casino floor footage.

Enter Lee, who requested the video and, in turn, was sued by the tribe Dec. 3.

On Thursday, Clark County Superior Court Judge Bernard Veljacic sided with Lee and ordered the video could not be withheld. The judge extended the tribe’s request to temporarily prevent the release from happening for two weeks in order to give it an opportunity to appeal, according to proceedings and decision affidavit.

Quinn H. Posner, a Camas-based attorney, previously told The Columbian that Christie was attacked by a group of people at the casino Oct. 6, after a viewing of an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.

Christie was “beaten senseless,” Posner said, and his client’s intention in obtaining the videos was to find out more about the assault because he was quickly knocked unconscious.

The sheriff’s office opened an investigation into the altercation and requested the videos, which the casino promptly provided. Christie filed a public records request to obtain the videos for himself.

The sheriff’s office was set to release the videos to Christie on Oct. 30, but then the Cowlitz tribe filed its lawsuit, which prevented the videos from being handed over immediately. The Cowlitz tribe asked the court to prevent the release from ever happening.

The Cowlitz tribe argued that releasing the videos to Christie would compromise ilani’s security and “expose it to potential criminal activity.” Additionally, if it were to release the videos to a member of the public, not only would it breach casino security, it would put employees and customers at “increased risk.” The Cowlitz tribe also argued that it’s a sovereign nation and isn’t subject to Washington’s Public Records Act.

Similar arguments fill the pages of the tribe’s lawsuit against Lee.

“The security of a casino is significantly compromised when the surveillance capabilities are made known to the public,” it says.

An attorney for the tribe’s gaming authority, Joseph Vance, wrote in a motion that multiple legal exemptions apply to releasing the video.

Vance said the material falls under the “security exemption” of the Public Records Act, which protects parts of records prepared to prevent, mitigate or respond to criminal terrorist acts, described as acts “that manifest an extreme indifference to human life, the public disclosure of which would have a substantial likelihood of threatening public safety …”

The casino further asserts that the video is exempt from release because it is an investigative record held by law enforcement.

Lee responded that none of the exemptions apply to the case.

The sheriff’s office “has not claimed any exemptions apply. If it were true that these records needed to be withheld to protect against terrorists, or to ensure effective law enforcement, or public safety, or an ongoing investigation, (CCSO) would have stated so by now,” Lee wrote in a preparatory memo.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter