Thursday, May 10, 2012

Officers' constitutional privacy supercedes public record laws

The Columbus Dispatch reports the Ohio Supreme Court's holding this morning that "law-enforcement agencies are not required to publicly identify police officers when they face credible threats of physical retaliation for their on-the-job actions, their constitutional right to privacy superseding Ohio's public-records laws."

Supreme Court justices were unanimous in their ruling in the appeal of a case filed by The Cincinnati Enquirer against the Cincinnati Police Department spawned by the paper's having sought the names and identifying information of two police officers who were shot in a 2010 confrontation with members of Iron Horsemen motorcycle gang at a local bar. Cincinnati police refused to release the officers' names, saying they were potential targets for retaliation by the gang since its "national enforcer" was killed in the shootout with officers.

"Citing the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals' 1998 decision in Kallstrom v. Columbus, a case in which several police officers sued the city for disclosing their personal information to a lawyer representing gang members against whom they had testified in a drug conspiracy case," the Court's summary said, "the court rejected the Enquirer's claim that the records it sought in this case were not exempt from disclosure because the newspaper posed no threat to the safety of the wounded officers or their families.

"(A)s the Sixth Circuit in Kallstrom I observed ... 'although there was no indication that the (organization requesting their records) posed any threat to the officers and their family members, disclosure even to that group of the officers’ phone numbers, addresses, and driver's licenses, and their family members’ names, addresses and phone numbers 'increases the risk that the information will fall into the wrong hands.'"

See State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Craig, Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-1999

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