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High court affirms release of police records on teacher

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WISCONSIN         Freedom of Information         Jul 8, 2002    

High court affirms release of police records on teacher

  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a police chief may open for inspection records of the investigation of a high school teacher’s alleged misconduct towards his students.

The state Supreme Court on July 2 upheld a decision allowing the release of documents regarding the investigation of a high school teacher who had allegedly engaged in inappropriate conduct with some female students.

The court was unanimous in its decision affirming the release of police reports gathered in an investigation of Armand Linzmeyer, a math teacher and volleyball coach at Neenah High School who allegedly made inappropriate statements and engaged in misconduct towards some of his female students. Parents of the students and The Post-Crescent of Appleton sued for release of the records. Linzmeyer then sought an injunction in Winnebago County Circuit Court to prevent the release.

The Winnebago County Circuit Court allowed the release of the records under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, a decision which Linzmeyer appealed to the state Supreme Court. The Circuit Court followed the rationale of the state’s Open Records Law that public records, such as the police reports, are open for inspection unless certain statutory or common law exemptions apply.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court held in 1996 that before records on individuals are released they must be given notice and a reasonable time to appeal. In addition, the court must balance the public’s interest in non-disclosure against the presumption of openness regarding public records.

Justice Jon P. Wilcox said that Linzmeyer failed to prove an interest in favor of non-disclosure stronger than his own private concern that the records would cause him embarrassment. Linzmeyer would even have difficulty claiming embarrassment, Wilcox wrote, because the statements he allegedly uttered were in front of large groups of students. By contrast, the public has an interest in the oversight of police investigations and in the scrutiny of potential misconduct of school officials that would outweigh Linzmeyer’s private interests, the judge wrote.

“If there is any negative effect from the release of the Report, it will be on Linzmeyer as an individual, and not on the public interest,” Justice Wilcox wrote in the decision allowing release of the records. Wilcox said that sensitive information in the documents can be blacked out under the statute.

Linzmeyer was not arrested, prosecuted or disciplined by the school system based on information in the report, and he resigned after being reassigned to other duties.

(Armand Linzmeyer v. D.J. Forcey; Media counsel: Robert J. Dreps, Kendall W. Harrison, Madison) MFS

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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