City agrees to trim fees to round up records for attack victim

The city of Beaufort has agreed to reduce its fee for providing years of police reports and other records to the attorney of a 26-year-old Beaufort native attacked in April the night before her wedding, says city attorney Bill Harvey.

Joel Bailey, the Beaufort lawyer for Rhyan Mazur-Williamson, sued the city Nov. 5 after the police department officials estimated it would cost about $3,000 to compile about 10 years of incident reports related to violent crimes in downtown Beaufort, according to the filing.

Mazur-Williamson was attacked April 17 by a still-unknown assailant inside a cottage at the Beaufort Inn, a beating that resulted in multiple fractures to her nose and face.

The lawsuit said Mazur-Williamson believes there had been similar crimes committed at or near the downtown hotel prior to the night she was attacked, according to the lawsuit.

To explore any "potential legal remedies," Bailey filed a Freedom of Information Act request in August with the Beaufort Police Department to personally inspect or be given copies of incident reports from January 2000 to May 2009 connected to murders, sexual assaults, robberies, assaults and other violent crimes in downtown Beaufort, according to the suit. The request defined downtown Beaufort as the area between Boundary and Bay streets and Bladen and Carteret streets.

The department claimed that, because of the scope of Bailey's inquiry, it would cost the city more than $3,000 to complete the records search.State law allows public bodies to charge a fee when granting FOIA requests, though that fee cannot exceed the actual cost of searching for or making copies of records.

"There were objections, concerns, and conditions about several aspects of Mr. Bailey's request," Harvey said, citing the 10-year time frame and large geographic area referenced in the FOIA request.

After receiving the city's cost estimate, Bailey filed the lawsuit in the Beaufort County Court of Common Pleas,asking a judge to order the city to waive or reduce any fees associated with producing the records.

Harvey said the two sides reached an agreement less than a week after the suit was filed to reduce the scope of Bailey's inquiry and charge a fee that would "adequately cover" the city's costs to gather the information. Harvey declined to disclose the specific terms of the agreement and Bailey could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

"Without having to file a response to the lawsuit, on behalf of the city, we worked out a limitation to the document search, and a financial understanding concerning the costs and expenses of the search, to which Mr. Bailey agreed," Harvey said. "With this understanding, the documents were gathered by the city and are currently awaiting pick-up by Mr. Bailey. With this resolution, we anticipate the lawsuit will be dismissed."

Attempts to reach Mazur-Williamson for comment were unsuccessful.