Court Shields School Records of Dayton Shooter From Press

Shoes are piled outside the scene of a mass shooting including Ned Peppers bar on Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people were killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(CN) – Ohio privacy law prohibits The Associated Press and other news organizations from accessing school records of the Dayton gunman who killed nine people in August to substantiate former classmates’ claims he was suspended in high school for compiling a “hit list” of people he wanted to kill.

On August 4, 2019, Connor Betts, 24, killed nine people in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

Betts opened fire in the streets of Dayton’s historic Oregon District with a .223-caliber rifle, killing men and women in his line of fire, including his 22-year-old sister. It is unclear if he intended to target his sister, but text messages indicate he knew she was in the area at the time.

Police killed Betts less than a minute after he started shooting.

According to law enforcement, there was never any indication that Betts posed a public danger, and no way his name would have ended up on a list that might have prevented him from purchasing a high-powered rifle such as the one he used on August 4.

But accounts of his former high school classmates tell a different story.

Two former classmates told The Associated Press that Betts was suspended twice during high school – once for compiling a “hit list” of people he wanted to kill, and another time for coming to school with a list of female students he wanted to rape.

Betts had no criminal record as an adult, and any charges he might have faced as a juvenile would typically be sealed under state law.

However, when the AP and other news agencies sought to obtain Betts’ school records to confirm these accounts, the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools denied the request citing Ohio privacy law.

An Ohio appeals court found for the school on Friday and denied the news agencies’ petition for a writ of mandamus.

The Ohio Public Records Act (OSPA) prohibits the release of any personally identifiable education records without a student’s consent, but the AP argued school records may be released when a former student dies in adulthood.

The court was not convinced.

“Here, OSPA’s language – which contains no exception for the death of an adult former student – permits only one reasonable interpretation, and that is that OSPA does not contain such an exception,” the three-judge panel ruled in an unsigned judgment. “The news agencies can make a reasonable argument that such an exception should exist, but their argument must be directed elsewhere.” (Italics in original.)

The court noted that the Ohio Legislature has affirmed the confidentiality of records after a person’s death in other contexts.

“The language of OSPA is clear and contains no exception for the death of an adult former student; we will not read one into it,” the panel concluded.

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