WEST VIRGINIA — The state Supreme Court agreed in late January to decide whether the Williamstown police improperly withheld from the Parkersburg News a police report concerning a fight between two high school students. Reportedly, one brandished a gun and the other a baseball bat.
The Parkersburg News only learned of the February 1993 incident from parents and students, who told the newspaper an argument at school led to a car chase to the railroad tracks. When one of the sophomores brandished a bat, the other went to his car and got a gun, and then the boy with the gun took the bat from the other boy and started to beat him.
The News requested information from the police about the time, date, place and nature of the incident, but not the juveniles’ identities.
When the police refused to release this basic information, which had been available to the press in the past, the News filed suit in Parkersburg circuit court.
In August, the circuit court upheld the police department’s position, ruling that the report was not covered by the FOI Act because it falls within the investigatory records exception. The judge also cited a state law protecting juvenile records.
In its petition to the state Supreme Court, the News said that it requested the information “merely to alert the public that an incident had occurred which possibly affected the safety and welfare of the general public in that area.”
The News argued that the law on juvenile records does not apply to police incident reports and that the court improperly invoked the investigatory records exception. A briefing schedule for the case before the Supreme Court has not been set.
(The Ogden Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Williamstown; Media Counsel: Jacqueline A. Wilson, Clarksburg)
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