TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - After a Tempe police officer shot and killed 14-year-old Antonio Arce this past January, his family wanted to know why. But now the lawyer representing Arce’s parents says Tempe police wanted to keep documents related to the case secret, saying the department would only provide public records if he and the family entered into a nondisclosure agreement with a $1 million penalty if any information leaked.
“Ridiculous, egregious, absolutely mind-boggling,” said Daniel Ortega, the attorney who’s representing the family.
Ortega says he requested public records from Tempe police, things like documentation of the incident, radio communications, videos and the personnel file for former Tempe Police Officer Joseph Jaen, the officer who shot Arce.
Ortega says more than 200 days have gone by, and he hasn’t received any records.
“The Tempe City Attorney’s Office did negotiate and offered to consider a reduced liquidated damages amount, as well as offered a different term entirely, to provide protection against dissemination of unredacted records,” said Kris Baxter-Ging, a City spokesperson. “Ortega chose not to continue to engage in negotiations on the NDA.”
Ortega denies the City offered to negotiate.
“What about my client’s rights?” Ortega asked. “What about them knowing why it is this police officer shot their son?
The City of Tempe says nondisclosure agreements are relatively common in cases where a criminal investigation is still ongoing.
But Phoenix-based civil rights attorney Elizabeth Tate says placing a million-dollar penalty on a nondisclosure agreement isn’t normal.
“No, I’ve never heard of that,” Tate said. “And I think when you put those kinds of dollar figures on a confidentiality agreement, you are literally trying to get a gag order.”
The City of Tempe says the nondisclosure agreement would only seek protection from Ortega’s law firm, and wouldn’t target the family.
City officials also say they’re bound by rules set by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office regarding what they can and can’t release during an ongoing investigation, though they added that Ortega’s firm could receive all related records through the discovery process if they filed a suit against the City.
But Ortega says that without records, he doesn’t have enough information to file a suit, and is instead, taking the City of Tempe to court for failing to comply with open records law.
Ortega says it’s all about closing this chapter for Arce’s family.
“What the City of Tempe is doing is just adding to the grief,” Ortega said.