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Judge orders MSU to give The State News police documents

May 20, 2009

MSU must hand over police documents regarding a 2006 campus assault to The State News, which requested the information under the Freedom of Information Act, an Ingham County Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Joyce Draganchuk ruled MSU must release the incident reports, which occurred on Feb. 24, 2006, as well as police officer names and suspect mug shots that were previously withheld. Some personal information will be redacted, or blacked out, before being released to The State News. Although the disputed documents will be made available, they are only a fraction of what was initially requested by the newspaper.

The 2006 assault involved one MSU student and two nonstudents who were charged in connection with pointing a gun at three people and pouring gasoline on one of them. That person was threatened to be lit on fire. Since the incident, the three have either been convicted or had their cases dismissed. Brian Wassom, attorney for The State News, said the decision vindicates the newspaper’s fight to obtain the incident report.

“It’s an affirmation that the university has been wrong all this time in maintaining that it doesn’t need to give us anything in the report,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag. We got some information and we got some vindication, but we still believe we’re entitled to more and we’ll have to decide what to do about it.”

Theresa Kelley, an attorney for MSU, argued during Wednesday’s hearing that a wealth of information requested by The State News was exempt because it invaded personal privacy.

“Whether the public has a legitimate concern doesn’t speak to the nature of the privacy of what is disclosed,” she said. “We ask the court to hold that MSU properly withheld this information.”

Jane Briggs-Bunting, president of the State News Board of Directors and director of MSU’s School of Journalism, said the ruling will provide the basic information The State News sought in the first place, and that time spent in court could have been greatly reduced.

“We received most of what we originally requested,” she said. “We had never sought a lot of the material that (MSU) is asserting was secret. We just wanted basic information that we could get at any other police department, not only in Michigan, but the entire country.”

The university has until June 3 to supply The State News with the reports. After that point, legal counsel will evaluate the materials and make a decision whether to continue to pursue legal action, Wassom said.

Omar Sofradzija, editorial adviser to The State News, said the case is important because it is a matter of informing the public of criminal happenings on campus.

“We feel that knowledge is the best way for the members of the MSU community to decide how to best respond to such situations,” he said.

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