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Georgia judge allows police to withhold details from police incident reports

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  1. Freedom of Information
GEORGIA -- A Superior Court judge ruled in late September that the police may withhold some details in several incident…

GEORGIA — A Superior Court judge ruled in late September that the police may withhold some details in several incident reports pertaining to an apparent serial rapist in Brunswick.

Three incident reports should be released with the dates, time and street locations of the rapes, the judge ruled from the bench. 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.

The judge said that releasing more information might put the victims at a second-time risk and jeopardize the investigation.

The case stems from early August when the Brunswick Police Department refused an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter’s request to inspect and copy incident reports regarding alleged sexual assaults committed in Brunswick during the month of July. The Police Department issued a news release saying that no information concerning sexual assaults could be released pursuant to the state Freedom of Information Act.

The police denied the same request by a reporter for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville the next week.

The two newspapers filed suit in superior court in Brunswick Sept. 13 saying that the reports were kept secret in violation of the state’s open records laws. The newspapers argued that the public deserves more information about the rapes in order to protect itself.

The rapes and the police department’s decision to withhold information has caused a stir throughout the community. In early September, the Brunswick City Council met in closed session to address the requests and issued a statement declaring that the police department was conducting “an ongoing investigation of several sexual assaults” and that “to divulge when or where these incidents occurred would materially impede this investigation.”

Glynn County officials have described the public reaction to the refusal to release the incident reports as “panic” and “hysteria,” according to local news articles.

The newspapers are considering an appeal.

(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Florida Times-Union v. City of Brunswick; Media Counsel: James Kimmel, Atlanta)