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Police must grant access to journalists investigating performance

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  1. Freedom of Information
Police must grant access to journalists investigating performance11/15/94 OHIO -- The state Supreme Court ruled in late October that the…

OHIO — The state Supreme Court ruled in late October that the Warren Police Department must disclose approximately 300 personnel and investigatory documents to a local newspaper.

The Warren Tribune Chronicle filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the state Supreme Court in September 1993 after repeated Freedom of Information requests to the police department were rebuffed.

Alyssa Lenhoff, the newspaper’s projects editor, and reporter Jennifer Houtman first made their request for documents in April 1993. The request asked for records of internal investigations over a five year period, incident and traffic reports for 1992, and the personnel files of all officers of the police department. They requested the documents as part of a larger audit of the performance of all law enforcement agencies in Trumbull County.

Lenhoff said the audit began after the newspaper began investigating a local police chief who was later indicted for theft while in office. “We had little difficulty getting information from all the police departments except Warren.”

In June 1993, Chief of Police Thomas Hutson sent a set of review conditions to the journalists, which allowed the review only in the presence of an officer and required the paper to reimburse the department for its time. He later changed the hours for records review from eight per day to three.

Capt. Clifford Evans, the overseeing officer, stated in August 1993 that all but eighteen of the more than 300 documents were exempt from the FOI act. He also raised copying fees, charging as much as five dollars for one page, according to the court.

The Court held that the police department must restore regular business hours to the Records Division, make the records available at cost and in the order in which they are organized, and submit to the court all documents alleged to be exempt from the FOI act for in camera inspection. The Court also required the department to pay all attorneys’ fees.

(The Warren Newspapers v. Hutson; Media Counsel: John Bruce Lewis)

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