Ohio court hearing public access issues to police video

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court is being asked to clarify media access to video footage from police body-cameras and dash cams, particularly during active investigations.

The court scheduled a hearing Tuesday 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 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 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.

The media organizations argue 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.