Records of investigation into missing drugs may remain secret

Freedom of Information | Feature | May 18, 1998

Records of investigation into missing drugs may remain secret

05/18/98

MICHIGAN--Documents relating to an internal investigation into the disappearance of narcotics from an evidence room in the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department may be withheld from the Kalamazoo Gazette, the state court of appeals in Lansing unanimously affirmed in late April.

However, because more than four years had passed since the discovery of the apparent theft and a grand jury investigating the incident adjourned without returning any indictments, the judges sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether disclosure would still interfere with law enforcement proceedings.

After reviewing the trial court's July 1996 oral opinion, Judge William Whitbeck said that the lower court applied correct legal standards in ruling that certain documents were exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Specifically, the trial court properly assessed whether disclosure would, rather than could, interfere with an ongoing investigation or reveal law enforcement techniques, the appeals panel said.

The trial court also correctly applied privacy exemptions by examining the threshold question of whether the requested information was of a personal nature, the court held.

The case arose in July 1995, after the Kalamazoo Gazette learned that a large quantity of narcotics was apparently stolen from the evidence room at the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, and requested documents related to an investigation of the matter. The department said most of the records were exempt from disclosure.

The city turned over some of the documents but claimed that others were exempt from disclosure because their release would interfere with an ongoing investigation and would reveal law enforcement techniques. The newspaper filed suit in circuit court in Kalamazoo seeking release of the withheld documents. After the trial court denied access to certain documents, the newspaper appealed. (The Herald Co. v. The City of Kalamazoo; Media Counsel: Bruce Martin, Kalamazoo)