Elon Law faculty member honored for open government efforts
Elliot Engstrom, a Legal Method and Communication Fellow, received the 2017 Sunshine Award for Advocacy from the North Carolina Open Government Coalition in recognition of his public interest work to help uncover records related to a mismanaged town police department.
Ellen Deitz Tucker's sister died when her car was struck by a man fleeing police. Tucker wanted to know more about the small North Carolina town police department whose officers engaged in the 2012 car chase, and whether those officers were following proper procedures. The town refused to provide any information.
That's when Elliot Engstrom volunteered to help.
Prior to joining the Elon Law faculty as a Legal Method and Communication Fellow, Engstrom was an attorney at the Civitas Institute's Center for Law and Freedom. It was in this role that he represented Tucker and, through the courts, won a lawsuit to have released a report on the Belmont Police Department that was prepared by a private investigative agency on the city's behalf. The report had already led to the police chief being terminated and others in the department disciplined.
The North Carolina Open Government Coalition honored Engstrom this month in recognition of his efforts, awarding him its 2017 Sunshine Award for Advocacy.
"Ellen Deitz Tucker wanted to know what went wrong in the Belmont Police Department," said Jonathan Jones, executive director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, which is based at Elon University. "The failings of the police in her hometown were personal to her because of the death of her sister, and a perception that the department had failed to observe appropriate policies and procedures.
"Without Elliot advocating on her behalf, she would have far fewer answers than she does today. His work helped make key parts of an important public document public, and further established that investigative reports into problems in law enforcement don’t disappear into a fog of state personnel laws."
Now in its third year, the Advocacy Award recognizes individuals "whose outstanding advocacy on behalf of government transparency, whether in the halls of government, the statehouse, the courtroom or the public, has led to greater access and greater understanding of public information."
The award previously honored Jon Elliston of Carolina Public Press (2016) and Gary Jackson of The Jackson Law Group (2015).
A 2010 graduate of Wake Forest University, Engstrom received his law degree from the University of Georgia in 2013. He has litigated in administrative, trial, and appellate courts across North Carolina in addition to his responsibilities teaching Introduction to Legal Methods, Legal Method & Communication, and Administrative Law.
"I have long admired the work of Jonathan Jones and the Open Government Coalition," Engstrom said. "It is an honor to be recognized by North Carolina's leading group of public records experts and advocates. I now look forward to shifting my focus from that of a litigator to that of a researcher, as I aim to publish articles that help to clarify and improve freedom of information laws."
Julee Flood, a faculty colleague at Elon Law, nominated Engstrom for the award.