Franklin County Sheriff's Office Chief Steve Martin blocked the news media from getting witness statements.
Court of Appeals of Ohio,Tenth District, Franklin County.
STATE WBNS 10 TV INC v. FRANKLIN COUNTY SHERIFF OFFICE
The STATE ex rel. WBNS 10 TV, INC., Appellant, v. FRANKLIN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE et al., Appellees.
-- January 30, 2003
[Excerpt] ...On May 16, 2001, a shooting occurred at 2573 Scioto View Lane in Columbus, Ohio. The victim, Jan Marie Wright, later died from a gunshot wound to the chest. She was shot by her husband, Richard Wright, who at the time was a Columbus Police Officer. The first law enforcement officials to arrive at the scene were officers from the Perry Township Police Department. One of those officers, John Thomas, prepared an Incident Report (“Report”) as part of his investigation of the shooting. The Report consisted of a two-page document that contained 54 numbered boxes in which Officer Thomas could provide information about the shooting. There were also four “Supplementary Report” forms attached to the Report. These forms contained statements from other police officers at the scene. Lastly, there were five “Perry Township District Police Department Voluntary Statement (Not Under Arrest)” forms included by Officer Thomas in his Report. These documents contained statements of other witnesses to the shooting and were also attached to the original Report prepared by Officer Thomas.
On the evening of May 16, Officer Thomas delivered the original Report with most of the attachments to the FCSO, as that office had taken over the investigation of the shooting. The attachments that were not delivered at that time (three of the four “Supplementary Report” forms) were delivered by Officer Thomas to the FCSO the next day, May 17.
The shooting garnered much media attention, and, on May 17, Joel Chow, an employee of WBNS, contacted FCSO Chief Steve Martin and requested a copy of the Report pursuant to the public records law. Thereafter, Chow received a three-page fax that included two documents titled “Franklin County Sheriff's Office Official Report” and the first page of Officer Thomas's Report. Upon reviewing these pages, Chow noticed that Officer Thomas's Report referred to several witness statements. The Report contained two boxes titled “Witness 1” and “Witness 2” in which Officer Thomas had simply typed the words “See Statements.” On May 18, after being unable to contact the Perry Township Police Department, Chow contacted Chief Martin again, seeking copies of the witness statements that were referred in Officer Thomas's Report. Chief Martin refused to provide Chow with these witness statements and indicated that, if WBNS continued to insist on the production of the witness statements, WBNS “never would have anything ever from [the FCSO] again.”
Later that same day, Chow told John Cardenas, the News Director for WBNS, about his conversations with Chief Martin. Cardenas then contacted Chief Martin and made another request for the witness statements. In a heated conversation, Chief Martin again refused to provide the witness statements, but also indicated that he was seeking legal advice from the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office. Chief Martin stated that he expected to receive the legal advice later that afternoon and that he would then call Cardenas back. That afternoon, Chief Martin received a legal opinion from attorney Jeff Glasgow of the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office. In essence, Glasgow informed Chief Martin that the witness statements were public records subject to disclosure.
Chief Martin then contacted Lieutenant Robert Pendelton of the Perry Township Police Department and advised him that, if Pendelton received any public records requests for the Report, he was to release the entire Report, including the witness statements. Chief Martin also informed his boss, Sheriff Karnes, both orally and in writing, the substance of attorney Glasgow's legal advice. However, Chief Martin did not call or attempt to contact Cardenas that day, nor did he send WBNS the requested witness statements. When Cardenas failed to hear from Chief Martin by late afternoon, WBNS immediately filed a verified complaint in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
WBNS's complaint sought a writ of mandamus compelling the FCSO to produce the witness statements pursuant to the Ohio Public Records Act, R.C. 149.43. On May 21, Lieutenant Pendelton released the report and witness statements to Channel 6. WBNS did not learn of this release until Channel 6 ran news stories concerning the content of the witness statements on May 21. The following day, WBNS received the witness statements from Lieutenant Pendelton. WBNS received these same documents from the FCSO on May 25... Full document here.