COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) - Law enforcement officials can redact investigative information from dash-cam videos but must release the remainder of recordings to the public, a unified Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
A case-by-case review will be used in the future to determine which portions of the videos are subject to withholding, wrote Ohio Supreme Court Judge Judith L. French.
The state of Ohio filed suit on behalf of the Cincinnati Enquirer last year, seeking to compel the release of dash-cam recordings related to a high-speed chase that took place on Jan. 22, 2015.
The Ohio Department of Public Safety refused to release the videos, which were captured by two Ohio State Highway Patrol vehicles, claiming the videos were exempt under ORC 149.43 as "confidential law-enforcement investigatory records."
The suspect who fled from police pleaded guilty to several charges shortly after the lawsuit was filed, and ODPS provided copies of the videos to the Enquirer on May 1, 2015.
While the release of the videos would ordinarily have mooted the case, Judge French refused to dismiss the action.
"[W]e can reasonably expect the Enquirer and other media outlets to continue to request dash-cam recordings and law-enforcement agencies to continue to withhold them,” she wrote.
Under Ohio law, a "confidential law enforcement investigatory record ... pertains to a law enforcement matter ... [whose] release would create a high probability of disclosure of specific confidential investigatory techniques or procedures,” the ruling states.
French used the statutory language as a guideline, and determined that "a 90-second portion of the recordings contains specific investigatory work product, but the remainder does not."
ODPS argued for a blanket rule that would shield all dash-cam videos from release to the public, but the judge refused.
"The recordings at issue here illustrate that a dash-cam recording, as a whole, may not easily fall in or outside the exception,” French wrote. “Rather, the three recordings contain images that have concrete investigative value specific to the prosecution of [the suspect] that may be withheld, but also contain images that have little or no investigative value that must be disclosed. A case-by-case review is necessary to determine how much of the recordings should have been disclosed."
French noted that a large portion of the videos contained the same information found in police incident reports released almost immediately after the chase.
The Ohio Supreme Court declined to award attorney fees to the Enquirer, finding that ODPS "operated on a reasonable, good-faith belief, based on existing case law, that their conduct did not violate RC 149.43."
While Judge William M. O'Neill agreed that the recordings should have been released, he dissented from the majority regarding the award of attorney fees.
"It is wrong for this court to recognize the clear public interest in police dash-cam recordings and then to deny the Enquirer reasonable attorney fees after it shed light on this ongoing dispute between the state's need for privacy and the public's right to know what is going on," he wrote.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.