The following question was submitted by The Corydon Democrat:
Sheriff must make information available on judge’s arrest
Q: A judge was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. She is on the ballot for re-election in the May 3 primary. The sheriff is refusing to release any information and while the county attorney acknowledges that certain information must be released, he says there’s nothing in the statute relating to when it must be released. Can you clear up for me what the newspaper has right to obtain?
A: Both the sheriff and the county attorney are incorrect in their approach to the situation. I.C. 5-14-3-5(c) clearly sets out the information that must be released when police make an arrest or called for assistance.
The Access to Public Records Act provision requires law enforcement to make the following information available for inspection and copying when an alleged crime has occurred:
• Time, date, and location of the occurrence;
• Name and age of the victim, unless it’s a sex crime (note: In July the identity of child victims can also be withheld);
• The factual circumstances surrounding the incident; and
• A general description of any injuries, property, or weapons involved.
The police also have to provide the time, substance, and location of all complaints or requests for assistance and the time and nature of the agency’s response to that call.
Refusing to provide any information is a clear violation of the law by the sheriff. Any attempt by the sheriff to claim the information is protected as investigative materials is sunk by the language in the investigatory records confidentiality provision of the APRA (found at I.C. 5-14-4(b)(1) that says “However, certain law enforcement records must be made available for inspection and copying as provided in Section 5 of this chapter.”
The attorney’s contention that there isn’t any deadline for the sheriff to make the information available is illogical when one takes into account two provisions of the statute.
5(c) requires the daily log or report be created no later than 24 hours after the call for assistance or incident occurs and I.C. 5-14-3-3(b) states: “Within a reasonable time after the request is received by the agency, the public agency shall either (1) provide the requested coies to the person; or (2) allow the person to make copies.
Since the document is clearly a disclosable record that needs no legal vetting, the reasonable intent of the legislature is that the daily log records should be available as soon as they are created providing the request was made during the normal business hours of the law enforcement agency.
Aside from the law, that stance of the sheriff and county attorney only make the situation worse for both the judge, the sheriff, and county officials from a public relations perspective.
Refusing to release the information only serves to stretch out the story concerning the particulars of the judge’s arrest. Turning a potential one-day on the front page story into a multiple day story, which only brings more attention to the judge’s legal issue prior to the May Primary Election.
The sheriff, who takes an oath to uphold the law, violates that promise and raises the question as the motive behind his refusal. Is he trying to protect the judge and help her re-election bid? Is he afraid of reprisals by the judge against the department that would impact upcoming criminal cases connected to arrests by the sheriff’s department? Is there something his department is trying to hide in connection to the arrest?
And the county attorney’s position opens up the implication that the county commissioners who employ the attorney are getting involved in what should be a straight-forward process. Is this an example of politicians working to protect their own by giving a preferential treatment to the judge?
Send your questions to Steve Key, firstname.lastname@example.org or call (317) 509-1507.