Public college to become poster child for new FOIA bill

Denmark Tech, a college in South Carolina, has a reputation for being on the violent side.   After a shooting in October of last year, the local news questioned the students’ safety at Den Tech.  A local police officer informed the news team that between twelve and fifteen students get arrested every week from the college.  The News 12 team submitted a FOIA request to obtain crime log data for the past two years, a list of sex offenders on campus, and statistics on violent crimes on campus for the past 5 years.

After reviewing the files sent by Den Tech, the data was insufficient, which came to no surprise since South Carolina has come in last on state audits regarding ease of obtaining information though the FOIA.  The news crew decided to follow up with the college so that they could view the incident reports in person.  Once they begin viewing the “public” records, the Public Safety Chief, Judy Halmon, stonewalled them, withholding most of the public records. Displaying forethought, the news team brought a hidden camera with them while viewing the files and caught Halmon’s uncooperative attitude on tape.

Representative Bill Taylor said that “[Denmark Tech] is a perfect of example of how not to do it.  They are defiant and arrogant. Shame on them!”   Taylor’s new bill in the South Carolina legislature will reduce the cost and improve the public’s ability to access records and information in the state. One of the specific improvements it is designed to bring about is reducing the time that FOIA’d organizations have to respond to an initial request by over 50%.  It will also “provide an easier avenue for punishing FOIA violators like Denmark Tech.”

When the news crew went back to the college for a second time, they were still denied access to the files, or even let onto the property.  They plan on submitting significantly larger FOIA request in the near future.

What penalties or sanctions should non-responsive organizations, such as Denmark Tech, face for failing to uphold FOI laws?