Private university police required to release records, rules Ohio Supreme Court

As a follow-up to a story we discussed in March, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last week that police departments at private universities are subject to public records laws and must comply with public records requests. The case before the court involved Otterbein College, a private Ohio college, whose police force refused to provide records to the student-run news website www.otterbein360.com. After the university refused repeated requests for records, the student news editor filed a mandamus action with the Ohio Supreme Court.

In a per curiam opinion last Thursday the Court found that, "Because its officers are sworn, state-certified police officers who exercise plenary police power, we hold that the Otterbein police department is a public office. Therefore, the department can be compelled to produce public records." The Court emphasized the fact that the police force is established under Ohio law  for "exercising a core function of government: the enforcement of the criminal laws," and that it is playing a role that is "historically a government function." The Court issued the writ of mandamus ordering the police to release records as requested. Justice O'Donnell penned a dissent, which Justice O'Neill joined. Justice Kennedy dissented separately.

The Northeast Ohio Media Group, via Cleveland.com noted that while this decision applies to private colleges that employ a police force under ORC 1713.50, it does not apply to those who merely have security guards.

For more information about this case see this article from Court News Ohio and the online docket, available here.

Photo credit: Author Carmaben via Wikipedia.