State attorney general says fraternity party police report exempt from law

MISSISSIPPI — The state attorney general’s office said in Januarythat the University of Mississippi does not have to release campus crimereports or police logs pertaining to a 1999 fraternity party incident thatsent five female students to the hospital.

The Daily Mississippian, the university’s student newspaper,and The Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson newspaper, requested the reportsfrom campus police shortly after the incident occurred in November. Theuniversity police department denied the requests. University ChancellorRobert Khayat then asked the attorney general’s office to issue an opinionon the records’ status under state open-records laws.

An opinion letter dated Jan. 7 from the state attorney general’s officesaid “the records in question are exempt from disclosure under the PublicRecords Act.” The Mississippi Public Records Act exempts from disclosurelaw enforcement investigation records associated with an identifiable individual.

“It doesn’t look like they’re going to give us the information,” saidChris Thompson, former editor of The Daily Mississippian. “We’releaning more toward filing a complaint with the Department of Educationor seeking some legal counsel.”

The attorney general’s opinion did not address federal laws cited bythe newspapers’ requests that require disclosure of campus crime reports.The Clery Act of 1998 obligates colleges and universities to make campuscrime logs available for public inspection or risk losing their federalfunding. A school is not compelled to release the information if thereis evidence that its release would jeopardize an ongoing investigation;however, the school can only withhold the specific information that wouldput the investigation at risk.

When the newspapers requested information about the fraternity party,they also asked for campus crime incident reports and police log informationhaving to do with rape or other felonies filed during the week of the party.This request was also rejected.

The Daily Mississippian did not receive a response to its requestwithin the 14 days required by the state open-records law. After a facultymember informed a Daily Mississippian staff writer that the attorneygeneral’s opinion existed, Mary Ann Connell, the university’s attorney,provided the newspaper with a copy of the report. Connell told the newspaperthat she thought it had already been informed of the university’s decisionto deny the requested documents.

The university’s faculty senate passed a resolution written by journalismfaculty in February supporting The Daily Mississippian’s effortsto gain access to the police records.

“I think there is a profound sense of cynicism on the campus among administrators,”said Karen Raber, an English professor, at a senate meeting. “The factis, this is part of the pattern and withholding information doesnítremedy any problem.”