GEORGIA — The state Court of Appeals in Atlanta affirmed in June a lower court ruling that police may withhold some incident reports pertaining to an apparent serial rapist in Brunswick.
The three-judge panel said “incident reports can be exempted from disclosure if disclosure would reveal confidential information or endanger the lives of various individuals.”
Displeased with the ruling, both sides in the Open Records Act dispute have filed petitions with the Court of Appeals for rehearing. The city contends that all of the information should be kept secret, while the media requestors favor access to the incident reports.
The case stems from August 1993 when the Brunswick Police Department refused two reporters’ requests to inspect and copy incident reports regarding seven alleged sexual assaults committed in Brunswick that summer. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Florida Times-Union sued the police, contending that the reports were kept secret in violation of the state’s open records laws.
The superior court judge in Brunswick ruled from the bench in September that three incident reports should be released with the dates, time and street locations of the rapes. Information such as the age and race of the victims or more specific details about the location of the crime, whether it occurred in a car or a house, should be kept secret, the judge ruled.
In an October amendment to the ruling, the judge ordered the city to disclose the ages of the victims and descriptions of the alleged perpetrators because newspaper articles based on independent sources made that information public.
The judge said that releasing more information might put the victims at a second-time risk and jeopardize the investigation.
(The Atlanta Journal and Constitution v. The City of Brunswick; Media Counsel: Peter Canfield, Atlanta)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.