From The Columbus Dispatch Columbus officials have agreed to pay $20,000 in damages and legal fees after the Ohio Supreme Court found the city's police division illegally refused to release public records.
The city will pay $19,000 to the law firm of Fred Gittes, the Columbus lawyer who represented Ohio Innocence Project attorney Donald Caster in the case. The Ohio Innocence Project will receive $1,000 in damages for the city's violation of public records laws.
The court majority ruled on Dec. 28 that police officials improperly had refused to years to release many investigative records in closed criminal cases, including homicide cases, to The Dispatch, the Innocence Project, private investigators and others.
The justices found that the city improperly relied on prior court rulings, with city officials arguing records could not be released as long as defendants still had potential appeals, which generally can be filed at any time. Such a practice, critics said, meant records were secret until defendants died or were freed from prison.
Castor had argued that Columbus' stance could keep the innocent in prison and true killers walking the streets since police case files could not be examined by third parties.
The justices split 4-1 on the ruling, with two concurring in part and dissenting in part. Most police investigatory records become public once a suspect's trial concludes, the court said. Exceptions for records protecting confidential informants and specific law-enforcement investigative techniques remain in place.
Caster's suit contended police illegally refused to release records in the case of Adam Saleh, who was convicted of the 2005 murder of Julie Popovich, 20, of Reynoldsburg, whose body was found near Hoover Reservoir.
The Innocence Project does not represent Saleh, who is 29 and serving 38 years in prison, but wanted to review his police case file to assess his claim that he was wrongly convicted in 2007 on the basis of false testimony by jailhouse informants who said he indicated that he strangled Popovich while trying to rape her.