Ohio Supreme Court rules on Enquirer suit: Dashcams are public record

From The Cincinnati Enquirer The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that most dash camera footage is a public record, but portions can be withheld as part of a criminal investigation.

Any request for dashcam footage should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the court ruled in a 7-0 decision.

"This is a very significant victory for the public’s right to know," Enquirer attorney Jack Greiner said.

The lawsuit stems from a request from The Enquirer, which requested dashcam footage from a high-speed chase on Interstate 71 in January 2015. Aaron Teofilo, 19, of Alabama, led police on a chase for about 15 miles before crashing near Norwood.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety denied the request for footage, so The Enquirer sued in March 2015. The footage was released in May 2015.

The Supreme Court determined that the OSHP should have promptly released to The Enquirer more than an hour of video from three dashcam recordings of the January 2015 police chase.

"Under even the most generous view of investigative work product, these images held no investigative value and should have been disclosed," wrote Justice Judith French.

Just a small portion of that footage, about 90 seconds, could have been withheld — when the trooper took the suspect to her patrol car, read his Miranda rights and questioned him.

"We appreciate the guidance that the Ohio Supreme Court decision has provided," OSHP Lt. Robert Sellers said.

All dashcam recordings shouldn't be shielded "merely because they contain potential evidence of criminal activity that may aid in a subsequent prosecution," French wrote. "A case-by-case review is necessary to determine how much of the recordings should have been disclosed."

The court declined to award The Enquirer attorney fees because OSHP used its best judgment given confusion surrounding whether dashcam footage should be released. Statutory damages were denied because The Enquirer used email rather than certified mail or hand delivery to submit their records request.

That is in line with current law, which might need updating, said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. "That’s probably something we should try to fix in the statute at some point," he added.

Justice William O'Neill commended The Enquirer for pursuing the case even though attorney fees were unlikely.

"The Enquirer could have saved attorney fees by abandoning this action as soon as the records were produced but it did not, and the law of Ohio is more easily understood as a result of their tenacity," wrote Justice William O'Neill, who would have awarded fees.

The Enquirer, Associated Press and four local television stations also asked the Ohio Supreme Court to weigh in on whether body camera footage is a public record. That case has not yet been decided.