From The Columbus Dispatch The Ohio Department of Public Safety improperly withheld public records concerning the deployment of 37 troopers to a North Dakota pipeline protest, a court expert ruled (in late April).
A special master in the Ohio Court of Claims found that state officials improperly cited privacy laws and security exemptions in refusing to release records to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Records identifying the deployed state troopers should have been turned over once the troopers returned to Ohio and most sections of a multi-state, mutual-aid agreement also should have been released, the special master ruled.
State lawyers had argued that the release of the information would imperil the troopers’ personal safety amid protester threats accompanying the clash-filled Dakota Access Pipeline protest.
Special Master Jeffrey Clark rejected that premise, ruling the troopers’ names could be shielded during their deployment Oct. 30 to Nov. 15, but should later have been released.
“DPS presents little or no evidence of credible current threats directed against the troopers or their families” in retaliation for their duties near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, Clark wrote.
The Dispatch also unsuccessfully sought records concerning the troopers’ work in North Dakota and, after its request was denied, dropped its demand for the troopers’ names. The amended request still was denied.
Clark also found that the state improperly failed to release most sections of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, the agreement through which states can seek assistance from one another.
Most of the document contains only “administrative and billing information” and has been released by at least six other states, he wrote. However, sections disclosing the equipment used by police can be withheld to help protect the officers’ safety, Clark ruled.
A State Highway Patrol spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Jack Greiner, a Cincinnati lawyer representing The Enquirer, lamented the state’s “hostility to government transparency” after saying he learned that the state plans to object to Clark’s ruling. A Court of Claims judge will make the final ruling on Clark’s recommendations.
The Dispatch requested records showing troopers’ use of force against Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. One video showed a trooper using pepper spray. Citing security concerns, the patrol refused to release the use-of-force reports. But it provided a record indicating the use of force was reviewed and found to be appropriate. A Grove City woman who unsuccessfully requested the same records has since filed a public-records complaint with the Ohio Court of Claims.
In Clark’s ruling, The Enquirer lost its bid for correspondence and emails concerning the dispatching of the troopers to the pipeline protest because its request was found ambiguous and overly broad.