Ohio State University violated Ohio public records law in its handling of a records request by the student newspaper, a court of claims judge ruled this week.
The university failed to produce public records within a reasonable amount of time and improperly redacted a suspect’s name on an initial police report, the court found.
Edward Sutelan, then-editor-in-chief of The Lantern student newspaper, filed a public records complaint in February in the Ohio Court of Claims, arguing that Ohio State had improperly redacted the name of a suspect in an initial police report the newspaper had requested. Sutelan is a former intern for The Dispatch, but was acting in his capacity with the student newspaper at the time of the complaint.
Following unsuccessful mediation, Ohio State sought to dismiss the case, and, eight months after Sutelan’s request, gave The Lantern the police report with the suspect’s name unredacted.
That report showed former Ohio State running back Brian Snead was a suspect in a campus sexual assault in September 2018. Snead was never charged, and the female student who said she had “non-consensual sex” with him declined to press charges or speak with police. Snead was later dismissed from the university in November after he was found in violation of student code of conduct charges.
The Court of Claims appointed a special master to the review public records case. Last month, the special master concluded that Ohio State failed to provide The Lantern requested records within a reasonable period of time and improperly withheld the name of the uncharged suspect. This week, Court of Claims Judge Patrick M. McGrath adopted those conclusions and ruled in favor of Sutelan. As such, Sutelan is entitled to recover the $25 filing fee and other costs from Ohio State.
Sutelan said Ohio State would routinely redact names from police reports, often taking weeks to fulfill his requests.
“I felt that it was important to take this up with the Court of Claims, and I was pleased to see that the special master agreed that this was a practice that shouldn’t happen,” said Sutelan, who is now an intern for The Sporting News and living in Charlotte, N.C.
He saidhe felt it was important to pursue the case even after Ohio State released the police report in question, because he didn’t think the university’s practices were reasonable.
“If the suit was dismissed, this would be something they could continue to use against other journalists in the future,” Sutelan said.
Ohio State could appeal the ruling. In an emailed statement Friday, spokesman Ben Johnson said the university is reviewing the decision.