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Police officers drop federal privacy suit

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    NMU         OHIO         Freedom of Information         May 3, 2002    

Police officers drop federal privacy suit

  • A federal court of appeals will not revisit its decision finding a “right of privacy” in police personnel files, a decision mitigated by a district court finding that denial of the information to news media would violate the First Amendment.

A case brought by police officers to force the city of Columbus, Ohio, to keep information about them secret to protect their privacy is now over, leaving intact a strong federal district court ruling that denial of disclosure to news media would prevent them from doing their job as watchdogs of the government.

The police officers voluntarily dropped their appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir).

The appellate court had ruled unanimously in 1998 that the three undercover narcotics officers had a “constitutional” 14th Amendment right to privacy that could enable them to enjoin the city from disclosing their home addresses and other information in their personnel files. The appeals court sent the case back to the district court in Columbus for a ruling consistent with its decision.

However, a group of 10 Ohio news organizations intervened in the case between the officers and the city after the appeals court decision. In September 2001, Judge George C. Smith ruled, despite the appeals court ruling, that a refusal to allow news organizations to see the information would so severely hamper the media’s efforts to gather the news that it would violate the First Amendment.

The police officers initially had appealed Smith’s ruling to the 6th Circuit.

The Kallstrom case arose in September 1995 when the city released the personnel files of the officers who were serving as prosecution witnesses in a trial involving the investigation of a violent Columbus gang.

(Kallstrom v. City of Columbus; Media counsel: David Marburger, Baker & Hostetler, Cleveland) RD

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