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State high court releases report of police shooting

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         OHIO         Freedom of Information         Feb 15, 2001    

State high court releases report of police shooting

  • Ohio police cannot invoke an exemption to the open records law to withhold police incident reports, generally held open, simply because they include a name that could be exempt under the open records law.

The Supreme Court of Ohio on Feb. 14 granted the Beacon Journal Publishing Co. the right to inspect an unredacted copy of a police incident report of a shooting by an officer.

The Akron Beacon Journal requested the report after a Wayne County sheriff deputy shot Robert G. Huffman after a four-hour standoff. The officer who completed the incident report transcribed the taped statements from police officers at the scene and included the transcript with the incident report. The sheriff released the record to the newspaper, but only after he struck the names of the officers.

A court of appeals had ruled that the sheriff could withhold the name of the shooting officer as an “uncharged suspect,” but required the release of other names in the report. The officer who shot Huffman was never charged. A section of the open records law exempts from disclosure the names of uncharged suspects.

The state Supreme Court reversed and ordered the release of the report to the newspaper with the police officers’ names included. The court reiterated the public record status of incident reports and noted that the sheriff cannot “now remove the ‘public records cloak'” simply because an officer decided to disclose the identity of an uncharged suspect in the report.

(The State ex rel. Beacon Journal Publishing Company v. Maurer; Media Counsel: Ronald S. Kopp and Stephen W. Funk, Roetzel & Andress, Akron, Ohio) CC

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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