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Columbus Police Withheld Public Records Illegally

The Ohio Supreme Court Building

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the Columbus Police have, for the last six years, illegally withheld public records in regards to closed criminal cases.

The ruling made this morning overturns a practice that since 2010, saw police refusing to release documents and records to private investigators, reporters and media outlets via a process called “CLEIRS” or “Confidential Law Enforcement Investigatory Records” that is part of the Public Record Act and serves as a stipulation which they elaborate on in the court documents:

“Confidential law enforcement investigatory record” means any record that pertains to a law enforcement matter of a criminal, quasi-criminal, civil, or administrative nature, but only to the extent that the release of the record would create a high probability of disclosure of any of the following: identity of a suspect who has not been charged, compromising information to a case, confidential investigation techniques, information that could endanger police, victims, witnesses or informants.

In response to the original request for documents that led to State ex rel. Caster v. Columbus, the Columbus Police Department released the following in response to a request for documents.

“CLEIRS Exception: A Public Office may withhold any records that pertain to a Law Enforcement matter of criminal, quasicriminal, civil, or administrative nature and that, if released, would create a high probability of disclosing any of the following types of information: 1.) Identity of an uncharged suspect, 2.) Identity of a confidential source, 3.) Investigatory techniques or procedures, 4.) Investigatory work product or 5.) Information that would endanger the life or physical safety of Law Enforcement personnel, a crime victim, a witness, or a confidential source. 

In the 4-1 ruling — the concurring justices said:

“How long must a convicted defendant or a member of the public wait?” senior Justice Paul E. Pfefier wrote in the majority opinion. “We also should be concerned about the interests of justice.”

“A defendant or member of the public can access potentially exonerating material concerning a defendant only after the defendant is dead. How did we get to this point?” he wrote.

So what does this change? It will now be easier for the public (including lawyers, private investigators, etc.) to request documents concerning closed cases that would have been inaccessible because of the stipulations of “CLEIRS.”

If a criminal case is closed, you should be able to see the documents surrounding the case.

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