Should media have access to police footage?

Ohio Supreme Court heard arguements Tuesday
Posted at 12:37 PM, Jun 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-14 12:51:28-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday regarding media access to video footage from police body-cameras and dash cams, particularly during active investigations.

The court conducted a hearing on media requests for dash cam video of a high-speed chase last year and police body-camera video involving the fatal shooting of a black motorist. Both raise many of the same arguments and seek a resolution on how body-camera record requests should be treated going forward.

The Cincinnati Enquirer asked the State Highway Patrol for the video of the Jan. 22, 2015, chase on Interstate 71 through Warren and Hamilton counties. The newspaper was provided copies of all records it requested but the dash cam videos.

The Enquirer’s attorney John Greiner argued that the issue is not about when the video is released -- it is about whether the prosecutor has the discretion to withhold the footage.

“This isn’t about timing,” Greiner said. “It’s about classification.”

The state says the footage was a "confidential law enforcement investigatory record" and, thus, an exception under public records law. The state says the video documents the troopers' real-time investigative activities.

But the Enquirer argues that no law enforcement record created before the initiation of an investigation should ever be exempt. The newspaper says the video shows the incident in progress, as anyone nearby could have seen it unfold on the interstate. The Enquirer also argues the videos weren't made during an investigation.

In a separate case, The Associated Press and other media organizations -- including WCPO -- sued Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters when he refused to release police body-camera video involving the July 19 fatal shooting of a black motorist in a traffic stop by a white University of Cincinnati police officer.

Deters had asked the Supreme Court to throw out the lawsuit over the university officer's body cam footage, saying the issue was moot after he released the video. But Deters also told the court that he wouldn't object if the justices looked at the overall issue of releasing such video in the midst of investigations.

Greiner read the incident report from the July 19 incident involving the University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing and Sam DuBose.

“Every fact that I just relayed to you is set forth in the narrative is also captured on the body camera footage worn by Tensing,” Greiner said.

He said the video should be released with the written incident report because they contain the same information, and since the incident report releases details already, there is no disclosure of information by releasing the footage.  

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor asked Greiner if he believes the incident report and the video release the same information.

“How can you say that the narrative is the functional equivalent to incident report when the incident report is what the officer himself witnessed? The film could show something opposed to what the officer said,” O’Connor said.

Media organizations have argued that because a state-supported university created the video to document its officer's activities, the video is a public record.

The prosecutor says the court has held that public record requests must be considered "in the context of the circumstances surrounding it." He says he made the decision to delay the video's release because of concerns for public safety and the possibility of tainting the grand jury process.

WCPO contributed to this story.