Mo. attorney general’s office helps college newspaper obtain campus crime reports

Campus security officials at Missouri Southern State College recently agreed to release complete incident reports to student journalists at the Chart after an open-records dispute lasting several weeks and involving the state attorney general’s office.

Chart editor J.R. Ledford said campus security had told him certain crime-report information, like names and locations, was being withheld because its release would be “embarrassing” for the victims. The policy began after former Joplin police Lt. Ken Kennedy took over as manager of the security force in the fall, Ledford said.

Ledford claimed the failure to disclose the full reports violated the state sunshine law, and petitioned the help of the state press association and attorney general’s office to point out the college’s mistake and force it to comply.

“I assumed when I took over as manager that we would handle releasing information the same way [as in the local Joplin Police Department],” Kennedy said. “I recently learned that the Missouri attorney general’s interpretation of the sunshine law and certain [U.S.] Supreme Court decisions is that we are not an official ‘law enforcement agency’ with ‘investigative reports,’ thus we must release all reports as public information.”

The state sunshine law permits law enforcement agencies to withhold information in cases that are under investigation.

Terri Agee, vice president for business affairs at the college, said the problem stemmed from a misunderstanding about whether the incident reports fit into this category or not and assured the Chart staff at an April 24 meeting that future reports would be released in their entirety.

But Ledford said when the Chart picked up the reports the following week, “there was very little information.”

It was only after Paul Maguffee, the state assistant attorney general, placed a call to the college that any real progress was made, Ledford said.