From The Cincinnati Enquirer The Ohio Supreme Court Wednesday allowed two lawsuits brought by The Enquirer involving dash or body cams to continue, meaning the court will rule on whether prosecutors and police can withhold such footage from the media and the public as part of their investigations.
In March, The Enquirer sued the Ohio Department of Public Safety to gain access to dashcam footage captured in January during a high-speed chase along Interstate 71. In July, The Enquirer sued the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office for not turning over bodycam footage taken during the traffic stop and shooting of Samuel DuBose by former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing.
The footage in both cases was requested under the Ohio Open Records Act, but initially withheld by both agencies. They argued the footage should be exempt because it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
The footage in both cases was eventually made public. The Ohio State Highway Patrol released the I-71 chase video in May, saying that the investigation was complete. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters released the DuBose video in early August. That footage provided key evidence in eventual murder charges against Tensing. Deters released it only after a grand jury indicted Tensing for murder.
Deters took nearly six months to release dashcam video that was taken shortly after the shooting of Cincinnati Police officer Sonny Kim, although that is not part of these legal actions.
"We are grateful the Court has agreed to take this on. We continue to believe strongly these videos are public records and should be available to the public," Enquirer vice president and editor Peter Bhatia said in a statement.
Enquirer attorney Jack Greiner said that the Supreme Court could have dismissed both cases as being irrelevant since the footage was already released. Both agencies being sued had asked the court to consider the cases moot.
"But because they didn't do that, it suggests to me that the Supreme Court agrees that there is a bigger issue here that they'd like to settle," Greiner said. "The question is, 'are such dashcam or bodycam videos subject to any exemption of the public records act?' We say no. But the agencies say yes because they claim it is confidential investigatory material.
"And we are looking forward to continuing our arguments."
Deters has also publicly stated he would like a final answer to the question. In the response to The Enquirer lawsuit, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's office stated that while the case was possibly moot, the agency "would make no objection if the Court decided to entertain the matter and decide the case on the merits.”
Initial evidence in the case is due within 20 days, and further filings and briefs are due a month after that, meaning a ruling could come sometime in spring.