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Ruling: Public interest key in weighing open record cases

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge was wrong to dismiss a woman’s lawsuit seeking police body-camera video of her son’s shooting, ruling the judge could not deny the open records request simply because it was part of a criminal investigation, an appeals court ruled Friday.

The Kansas Court of Appeals sent Trina Green’s case back to the Wyandotte County court for further hearings. The three-judge panel unanimously reversed a decision that had dismissed her case based on an exemption to the Kansas Open Records Act relating to investigatory records.

That exception isn’t “iron-clad,” the appeals court ruled, noting that in a court action the law enforcement agencies have the burden to prove that a record’s release would harm their investigation.

The ruling states judges have the discretion to disclose records if they find that the disclosure is in the public’s interest, doesn’t interfere with a law enforcement investigation, doesn’t reveal confidential sources and techniques, doesn’t endanger anyone’s safety, and doesn’t identify the victim of a sexual offense.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported http://bit.ly/2qrHe5K the case stems from a February 2016 incident in which officers from the Kansas City, Kansas, police department and the Wyandotte County sheriff’s office shot Green’s son multiple times.

Her attorney, David Peterson, told the newspaper that no officers were charged in the shooting. Her son survived.

Trina Green sued after her request for the body-camera video of the incident was denied.

Wyandotte County District Judge Daniel Duncan dismissed Green’s petition with prejudice, presumably preventing her from later seeking a court order for the records even after all investigations were completed. He offered no explanation how he reached his decision.

“Instead, the district court appears to have simply decided that disclosure shall not be made whenever a law-enforcement agency objects, even though the statute clearly gives the court discretion to order disclosure in such cases,” according to the appeals court’s ruling.

The appeals court found that the lower court abused its discretion by ruling without an evidentiary record and without weighing the statutory factors.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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