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Police investigation records not automatically exempt from disclosure

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  1. Freedom of Information
Police investigation records not automatically exempt from disclosure09/09/96 SOUTH CAROLINA--In mid-August, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a report…

Police investigation records not automatically exempt from disclosure

09/09/96

SOUTH CAROLINA–In mid-August, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a report of an investigation into police misconduct was not automatically exempt from disclosure merely because it contained personal information about the officers involved.

The Supreme Court ruled that the determination of whether the report or portions of it were exempt from the state FOI Act must be made after examining the facts of each case and determining if the exemption that protects against “unreasonable invasion of personal privacy” applies.

The ACLU had requested records concerning a police misconduct investigation, which the investigating body refused to disclose, claiming they were exempt because they contained private information about the officers. A trial court held that such records were automatically exempt.

The state Supreme Court reversed, remanding the case to the trial court. The high court held that there was a genuine issue of whether the report contained information of a personal nature that, if disclosed, would be an unreasonable violation of the officers’ privacy. The trial court made no finding regarding the content of the report, and it was unclear from the trial court’s order whether the judge actually examined the report at all, according to the Supreme Court.

The high court also ruled that the applicability of an exemption to the FOI Act to any document generated from a non-public meeting or discussion must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Under the state’s FOI Act, a public body may conduct closed-door discussions relating to employment or the demotion or discipline of employees. However, any report generated from those discussions is considered a public record and cannot be automatically exempt from disclosure, the court said. (City of Columbia v. ACLU; Media Counsel: Lex Rogerson, Lexington)