KANSAS — Twelve refusals by police did not stop the Universityof Kansas student newspaper staff from accessing an accident report.
Despite the Kansas Highway Patrol’s claim that the report was exemptfrom the state open-records act, The University Daily Kansan decidedto take its request to court where a judge ordered the cops to comply.
When The Kansan requested access to the report on a fatal Septembercar accident involving two local residents, state police said they wouldnot release the report because it was part of a criminal investigation.
But Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock ruled in Marchthat the record should be considered public and turned over to the newspaper.
John Eichkorn, state public information officer for the Kansas HighwayPatrol, said the patrol then turned over the records and will not appealthe decision.
According to Eichkorn, the patrol initially refused the newspaper’srequest to avoid jeopardizing the pending criminal investigation that laterresulted in a 16-year-old pleading no contest to a charge of involuntarymanslaughter.
Nathan Willis, now opinion editor of The Kansan, filed suit againstthe patrol in November, claiming the patrol violated the Kansas Open RecordsAct by refusing to release the report.
In his decision, Bullock said he ruled in favor of the newspaper becauseWillis was simply requesting the report the patrol must forward to theKansas Department of Transportation. The information in this report “isnot to be privileged or held confidential,” Bullock said.
Bullock also ruled that there “is no statutory provision that wouldlend support to the [patrol’s] claim that the report should not be madeavailable to the public.”
Eichkorn said the decision may affect the way the highway patrol handlesaccident reports in the future.
“I imagine that we’ll probably take a look at how we file accident reportswithin our agency,” he said.
The highway patrol will not have to pay The Kansan’s attorneyfees, which adviser Tom Eblen said were more than $2,000, because Bullockruled the patrol’s refusal was made “with reasonable basis in fact or law.”
The newspaper was “rebuffed 12 times by the highway patrol and the districtattorney’s office,” Eblen said. “We’re pleased that the court saw our request.”