Tuesday, December 15, 2009

State police should release first page of report on death investigation, attorney general rules

The Kentucky State Police violated the state open-records law in denying the Kentucky New Era's request for an initial report on the September death of a Mayfield woman, the state attorney general's office has ruled in an appeal filed by the Hopkinsville newspaper.

The police denied News Editor Julia Hunter's request on grounds that the investigation was still active, and KSP lawyer told the attorney general's office that the police do not "create initial offense reports or incident reports," an assertion that appears in boldface type in the decision, perhaps because it was so surprising, or unbelieveable.

Attorney General Jack Conway said the first page of the KSP's standard report form is the functional equivalent of an "initial offense report," which is supposed to be public. "As a general policy matter, this office recognizes that the public has the right to know when crimes are being committed in their community and to obtain information, through the Open Records Act, which would establish whether or not law enforcement agencies are actively investigating those crimes and pursuing wrongdoers," the ruling said, noting that there is "no other initiating document by which the public can be informed of the existence of this investigation."

The decision said "KSP has not demonstrated with specificity the harm that would result from disclosure of any information" in the report, so it should redact any information exempt from mandatory disclosure, then release the report. Hunter noted in her appeal that the police issued a news release that gave basic facts about the incident, so "It seems improbable the release of the report would jeopardize an investigation."

The full text of this and other attorney general rulings issued Tuesday can be found via Links of Interest at the bottom of the KOG Blog.

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