ACLU of Utah Sues Olympic Officials for Refusing to Disclose Areas for Protestors at 2002 Games

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
February 12, 2001 12:00 am

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ACLU of Utah
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SALT LAKE CITY–In a lawsuit filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah charged Olympic security planners with violating state public records law by refusing to disclose the sites where demonstrators will be allowed during the 2002 Winter Games.

“When we agreed to host the Winter Olympics, we welcomed the world to Salt Lake and this welcome should not exclude voices of dissent,” said Carol Gnade, Executive Director of the ACLU of Utah. “If Utah officials continue to flout public records law, then we have no way of knowing just what we’re in for,” she added, warning that the result could be “a worse-case scenario for the First Amendment.”

The United States and Utah constitutions protect protests, and courts have required that places be set aside for demonstrations.

In a January 2, 20001 letter to the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command (UOPSC), ACLU of Utah staff attorney Janelle Eurick asked officials for “public documents concerning the treatment of peaceful protesters during the 2002 Winter Olympics,” including information about the location of free speech areas around Salt Lake City Olympic venues, the rules regarding conduct within the Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s secured area near the medals plaza and Delta Center, and information about the training and identification materials on the “mobile field forces” that will be used to control demonstrations during the events. The request was made under Utah’s Governmental Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

Eurick expressed disappointment that the ACLU of Utah has had to resort to the courts in order to receive these documents. “Over the past two or three years, we have been meeting with representatives from the Salt Lake City Police Department and the Olympic Public Safety Command — in fact, with anyone who will listen to our concerns — to ensure that during the Olympic event, demonstrators have meaningful areas to voice their opinions and that our regular public forums remain open to free speech activities.”

While UOPSC has joined the Salt Lake Organizing Committee at several public events to discuss their activities, they have not provided written information regarding any provisions for accommodating peaceful protesters during the international event. The ACLU of Utah’s records request was an effort to avoid a last-minute fight over important free speech issues.

Brian Barnard, ACLU of Utah cooperating attorney on the case, said that there is no question that UOPSC is a public agency and must abide by Utah’s public records act. Created by legislative statute, UOPSC is made up of approximately 20 law enforcement agencies that work together to coordinate the Olympic security effort.

“Our fear is that UOPSC has been preparing to ensure national security and for the possibility of terrorist activities without working to ensure the rights of peaceful protesters as well,” Barnard said.

The case was filed today in the Salt Lake County Third District Court.

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