Is police dashcam and bodycam footage subject to public records exception? Ohio Supreme Court to decide.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments next week on two complaints for writs of mandamus by the Cincinnati Enquirer, both of which involve requests for police video footage.

One of the cases, State of Ohio ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Ohio Department of Public Safety, involves a request by the Enquirer for dashcam footage of a January 2015 highway pursuit from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The pursuit had started in Warren County after a 911 call and ended in Hamilton County. The Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) denied the request for the dashcam footage, arguing that it was a Confidential Law Enforcement Investigatory Record (CLEIR) under an exception to the Public Records Act (ORC 149.43(A)(1)(h).) They eventually released it to the newspaper after the defendant in the case, Aaron Teofilo, pleaded guilty.

The Enquirer argued in its merit brief that it was entitled to the footage under the Public Records Act and that the ODPS didn’t argue or prove that the dashcam footage "falls squarely" into an exception under the law that would allow them to deny public disclosure. The ODPS argued that the footage was specific investigative work product under the law and was exempt from release as a public record until the investigation was done. The docket for the case is available here.

In the other case, State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Deters, five news outlets joined the Enquirer's complaint requesting the court to order the Hamilton County Prosecutor to release the bodycam footage from the Ray Tensing case, where Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer, shot and killed Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop. The prosecutor's office initially refused to release the footage to the media, citing concerns about the defendant's 6th Amendment right to a fair trial and arguing that it fell under the CLEIR exception to public disclosure. The office later released it after Tensing was indicted.

In its merit brief, the Enquirer argues that the footage was not a CLEIR, and was, in fact, a pre-investigation record that should have been released immediately upon request. They also argued that even if it was an investigatory record, there was no evidence that releasing it would reveal “confidential investigatory techniques or procedures or specific investigatory work product.” It also addressed the issue of whether the case was moot since they have already received the footage, saying that it was an issue capable of repetition and the court should still issue a decision.

The prosecutor's office argued that the footage was a CLEIR, that it  was different from 911 calls and incident reports, and that even if the court found that it was a public record, it should create a rule providing reasonable limitations and restrictions about releasing such footage to allow law enforcement "to effectively carry out their duties." The docket for this case is available, here.

For more information about the cases, see this article from Court News Ohio. Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday June 14 in both cases.

Image via Wikimedia Commons user Scott Davidson.