Indiana student continues pursuit of private college police records

Justin McLaughlin is not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

Although Taylor University and the Indiana public access counselor repeatedly denied the recent TU graduate’s requests for crime reports, McLaughlin has renewed his fight for access to police records at the private school in Upland, Ind.

McLaughlin, who graduated from the evangelical Christian university in 2003, is now focusing his investigation on the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, which he believes may have aided the campus police and would have crime reports to document it. There should be no more confusion over whether these reports are public, he said.

“Last time [when requesting reports from the private university,] there was a significant question of law that’s still unresolved,” McLaughlin said. “What I’m seeking are public records from a public agency.”

McLaughlin’s previous requests came while he was researching a string of crimes at Taylor. He filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor accusing the university of noncompliance with the state’s open-records law. The official rejected McLaughlin’s claim, saying that the university police department, whose officers are deputized by the state police and have the power to arrest suspects on and off campus, is not a public agency.

McLaughlin said he has been contacting the sheriff’s office for more than a year in pursuit of any records that mention Taylor University. He estimates that he submitted five requests by phone and e-mail.

But a Grant County Sheriff’s official said McLaughlin’s requests simply “fell through the cracks.”

“It was an e-mail message that just somehow got lost,” Chief James Lugar said.

McLaughlin said he does not know what records related to Taylor University might come out of his requests to the sheriff’s office – or even if any exist – but he said it is important to keep the government accountable.

“I’ve put almost two years of work into it,” McLaughlin said. “I’m going to go until I exhaust every avenue at this point.”\n \n

SPLC View: Thank goodness for those who persevere. Fighting for the right to see public records can be a long, drawn-out experience not for the faint of heart. Those who possess records that they do not want others to see have the ability to make a requester jump through all sorts of hoops: legal, practical and otherwise. But those who have stuck with it – sometimes in battles that have lasted for years – have paved the way and made it easier for those who follow. Justin and others who have forged ahead, often with nothing to gain other than the personal satisfaction of knowing they have done the right thing, deserve our thanks. In addition to the ongoing fight at Taylor, two other cases involving access to private school police records – one at Harvard University and one at Mercer University in Georgia – are currently in court.