(CN) – In a case that its attorney is calling “historical,” The Center for Investigative Reporting sued the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for refusing to hand over records and documents related to the 1996 murder of rapper Tupac Shakur.
“In 2011 the FBI released documents on its own investigations, so we thought it was important that local law enforcement consider the review and release of records,” D. Victoria Baranetsky, general counsel for the Center for Investigative Reporting, said in an interview.
She asserts that the case is of “historical importance.”
Andy Donohue, managing editor for the Center for Investigative Reporting and a hip-hop fan, says he sent a request to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department for information about the 22-year-old case last December.
“The past few years I’ve been thinking about [the Tupac murder case] a lot,” he told Courthouse News in a phone call. He thought the local files might help him find new angles into the as-yet unsolved murder.
But getting those files hasn’t been easy.
“It was pretty obvious from the start that they weren’t interested in responding,” Donohue said.
According to the May 2 complaint, even though the Nevada Open Records Act compels the respondent to answer records requests within five days, the police department didn’t respond for nearly a month.
When it did, it released a two-page police report and a statement from the department’s general counsel, Charlotte Bible, saying that the case is an “open active investigation,” the complaint says, and thus all records are confidential.
The lawsuit says Bible cited the Nevada case PERS v. Reno Newspapers to argue that the department doesn’t have to give up the documents because “law enforcement policy justifications for nondisclosure outweigh the public’s interest in access to records.”
But the Center’s lawsuit challenges that notion on the grounds that that decision “considered whether records related to retired state employees who were collecting pensions were confidential,” and thus has no bearing on this request.
The Center insists the Las Vegas police department has not proved a justifiable reason to deny the request.
“There is no Nevada statute that expressly and unequivocally deems records relating to an open criminal investigation to be privileged or confidential,” the Center’s lawsuit states.
According to the Center, Donrey of Nevada Inc. v. Bradshaw – a case over media access to records that went to the state’s supreme court in 1990 – set up the “balancing test” that would determine whether records could be released.
The questions that must be asked include whether there is a pending or anticipated criminal proceeding, whether there are confidential sources or investigative techniques to protect, whether someone could be denied a fair trial, or whether there is any danger to law enforcement personnel.
The Center contends that none of these criteria have been met.
“Simply put, [the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department] cannot identify a single compelling interest that would override the public’s right to obtain records related to Tupac Shakur’s unsolved murder,” the complaint finishes.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department could not be reached for comment.