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Officers lose libel, privacy claims over internal affairs files

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Officers lose libel, privacy claims over internal affairs files 07/28/97 OHIO--In early July, a state judge dismissed 37 libel and…

Officers lose libel, privacy claims over internal affairs files

07/28/97

OHIO–In early July, a state judge dismissed 37 libel and invasion of privacy claims brought against The (Toledo) Blade by 10 city police officers and two civilians following the publication of an investigative series based on internal police investigation records.

An eight-day investigative series covered 17 years of police misconduct, including crime and social problems such as alcohol abuse. Information was gleaned from newly-opened internal affairs unit files.

Rejecting the libel claims, Judge William Skow of the Court of Common Pleas in Toledo ruled that the paper was privileged to report from the public record, adding that information in the series was accurately reported and that actual malice — knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth — had not been shown. Police officers are considered public officials in Ohio and must meet the actual malice standard.

The invasion of privacy claims were dismissed because the facts contained in the internal affairs files were not private, the judge ruled.

“The Secret Files of Internal Affairs” ran from June 24 through July 1, 1990. During their research, Blade staff writers Sam Roe and Dave Murray reviewed nearly 1,000 formerly confidential files, encompassing every officer investigated since the unit’s inception in 1973. (Michael Dennis Early v. Blade Communications; Media Counsel: Fritz Byers, Toledo)