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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cough It Up, Newspaper Tells Highway Patrol

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) - A small South Carolina newspaper sued the state Department of Public Safety for refusing to release documents on a City Councilwoman's DUI arrest. The Greenwood Index-Journal does not accept the state's claim that because "criminal charges are pending," it is exempt from disclosing the public records.

The 15,000-circulation Index-Journal demands records on the Sept. 20, 2010 arrest of Greenwood City Councilwoman Nicoletta "Niki" Hutto. A Highway Patrolman arrested her on DUI-open container charges.

After the arrest, an Index-Journal reporter file a FOIA request, seeking "copies of incident reports, arrest warrant affidavits and any associated documents or notes."

The newspaper also sought "a copy of the officer's in-car video of the arrest," or at least an opportunity to view the video.

The Index-Journal says the Highway Patrol's stiff-arming of its request for public records is not an isolated incident. It says that "by the inclusion of the exemption asserted in response to plaintiff's request on its form for response to requests under the FOIA, defendant has institutionalized the means for violating the FOIA."

The newspaper says the so-called exemption is bogus: "Notwithstanding the FOIA requirements that public records be made available for inspection and copying, defendant on October 18, 2010 denied plaintiff's request for the reason that, 'Criminal charges are pending.'"

The Index-Journal says this "is at variance with the exemptions from mandatory disclosure permitted under the FOIA for law enforcement and public safety agencies, and in disregard of decisions of the Supreme Court of South Carolina and the South Carolina Court of Appeals."

The Index-Journal asked the Richland County Court to order the Highway Patrol to deliver the documents. It is represented by Jay Bender with Baker, Ravenel & Bender of Columbia.

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