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Internal police investigation reports must be disclosed

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    NMU         MISSOURI         Freedom of Information         Mar 22, 2001    

Internal police investigation reports must be disclosed

  • When sections of the open records law conflict, statutory interpretation should favor disclosure, the state Supreme Court ruled.

The state Supreme Court ruled on March 6 that an internal police investigation report should be open under state law, overturning a lower court’s decision.

Kirkwood police officer Stephen Guyer requested a county internal affairs bureau report that investigated a citizen’s complaint accusing him of misconduct. The city of Kirkwood denied his request by citing an exemption to the Missouri Sunshine Law that protects documents related to the hiring, firing or disciplining of an employee.

Guyer sued for the records in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County, arguing that another provision of the Sunshine Law requires the city to release all inactive incident and investigation reports. The trial court ruled for Kirkwood, a suburb 15 miles southwest of St. Louis.

The state high court agreed that the records in question could fall under both categories but reversed the lower court, citing yet another section of the open records law that requires records to be disclosed if two sections of the law conflict.

The conflict section “should be used as a tiebreaker in favor of disclosure when records fit equally well under two specific but opposite provisions of the Sunshine Law,” the court said.

The court did not order the immediate release of the records, but remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether the citizen complaint against Guyer constituted an investigative report. If the trial court finds the record to be an investigative report, it must be released under the open records law.

(Guyer v. City of Kirkwood; Counsel: Rick Barry, Greg Kloeppel, St. Louis) EH

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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