Court weighing arguments in Ohio gunman school records case

Posted at 10:38 AM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 10:38:28-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A school district is before the state high court fighting the release of student records of a gunman who killed nine people in Dayton last year.

Lawyers for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools say both state and federal law protecting student privacy bar the release of confidential information without consent.

"There is nothing in the case law interpreting those two statutes that would advise an Ohio school administrator that either protection terminates upon the death of the student," attorneys for the district argued in a Jan. 14 filing.

Likewise, media groups seeking the records' release say that nothing in the laws prevent the information's release.

"There is no basis on which to read into that silence a broad, new exception to the Public Records Act," attorneys for the media groups said in a Dec. 16 court filing.

The Ohio Supreme Court could next decide to set oral arguments or simply rule on the case, though no final decision is expected for several weeks.

The records could shed light on whether authorities properly handled early warning signs exhibited by gunman Connor Betts, the media outlets, including The Associated Press, have argued. Those signs could include disturbing behavior that the Dayton gunman reportedly exhibited in his youth.

Betts was killed by police half a minute after he opened fire Aug. 4 in Dayton's crowded Oregon District entertainment area. But armed with an AR-15 style gun with an extended ammunition magazine, Betts still killed nine, including his sister, and injured dozens more.

Afterward, high school classmates said Betts was suspended years ago for compiling a "hit list" of fellow students he wanted to harm. Two of the classmates said that incident followed an earlier suspensionafter Betts came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault.

Police investigators said Betts had a "history of obsession with violent ideations with mass shootings and expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting." The FBI said it uncovered evidence Betts "looked into violent ideologies."

But authorities have also yet to identify a motive, or been able to say definitely whether Betts intended to kill his sister, Megan, or if her death was inadvertent.

The Supreme Court took the case after an appeals court ruled in favor of Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools and its denial of access to Betts' high school files.

The appellate court ruled the media organizations hadn't established a clear legal right to the records. Those organizations also include the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Dayton Daily News, CNN, The New York Times, and WHIO-TV.

Ohio's attorney general has sided with the media groups, saying federal privacy protections don't apply after a student's death.