Officer loses case over release of personnel file
OHIO–A former Euclid police officer has no claim under the state’s Privacy Act against the city or its chief of police for releasing to a newspaper reporter major portions of his personnel file under the state’s Public Records Act, a state appeals court in Cleveland ruled in mid-July.
The appeals court rejected John McGraw’s claim that the Ohio Privacy Act protects personal information in government employee files. It ruled that a municipality and its employees are immune from suit under the state’s Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act unless a specific exception to that law applies. The court also said that no exemption to the open records act covered the information and that language in the state’s Privacy Act excluded law enforcement agencies from Privacy Act protection.
Drez Jennings, a reporter for the Willoughby (Ohio) News Herald, requested the file in August 1992, seeking routine background information after McGraw was indicted on sexual offense charges involving a member of his family.
In an early story on McGraw’s arrest, Jennings quoted the Euclid police chief as saying that if McGraw had not left the department he would have been fired.
The police redacted medical and other information that was exempt under Ohio’s open records law before giving copies of the personnel file to Jennings.
Charges against McGraw were ultimately dropped.
McGraw sued the department and its chief in the Court of Common Pleas in Cleveland in August 1994, two years after Jennings saw the file. He said that the state Privacy Act protects employees from personnel file disclosures. The court dismissed the case in November 1995 and McGraw appealed. (McGraw v. City of Euclid; City Attorney: Deborah LeBarron, Euclid)