What follows are 73 pages of emails I received last week in response to a public records request I filed with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office back in March.
I filed the request just after publishing a lengthy investigation into bizarre hijinks that were allegedly going on at the PBSO. According to sources that included a former deputy, a Russian hacker, and a man who ran against Palm Beach County Sheriff Rick Bradshaw for his seat at the head of the department, the PBSO used quasi-official resources to spy on journalists and political opponents. One deputy seemed to admit, on secretly recorded phone calls, to racially profiling and conducting elaborate revenge missions on Bradshaw’s behalf.
Under Florida’s public records law, I requested large batches of communications between various PBSO employees who were involved in the story, hoping to find official documentation to support these claims. The office has been releasing them to me slowly but surely over the last several months, and with a few small exceptions, none of it has been relevant to my reporting. The same was true of the latest batch, which I received on a CD-ROM earlier this week, except for one curious redaction, which lasted for 73 straight pages without a single break for visible, meaningful text.
The emails were sent by Michael Gauger, Bradshaw’s second-in-command, to Simone Hurbs, who appears to work in the PBSO’s central records division. Based on the portion of my request that they were sent in response to, I can tell you that they contain information regarding Mark Dougan, a former PBSO deputy who became a scathing and sometimes hyperbolic critic of the department. Based on the text of the few emails in the batch that weren’t fully redacted, I can tell you that they might refer to a hacking incident in which the personal information of thousands of local law enforcement officers was published on a website once operated by Dougan. I can’t tell you anything else, because literally everything else is blacked out.
There are all sorts of reasons why the PBSO might want to redact such a large portion of the information they released to me, and many of them aren’t at all nefarious. Florida’s public records law contains exemptions that allow the personal information of victims of crimes to be redacted, for instance. It’s possible that Gauger was sending Hurbs the contents of the dox that was published, or that they were sharing information that could compromise an ongoing investigation if it were to be released. Given the way that the PBSO apparently feels about journalism and its practitioners, however, it’s also possible that there’s something in there that they just didn’t feel like sharing. It’s impossible to know.
All of which is to say the huge redaction isn’t necessarily newsworthy on its own—worth mentioning in a few cast-off tweets, but maybe not a whole blog post. But hey! It’s senior week at Gawker. Here, if only for the overwhelming aesthetic weight of all those black bars, is what 73 straight pages of fully redacted emails looks like.