Virginia Tech student newspaper won’t appeal dismissal in lawsuit seeking records about missing student

The case involving police records from a 1998 missing person investigation has been dismissed because the West Virginia State Police claim the records are part of an ongoing investigation.

The Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech’s student newspaper, wanted to access the police investigation file in 2009 when reporter Caleb Fleming was writing a story about the 10th anniversary of former Virginia Tech student Robert Kovack’s disappearance. The West Virginia State Police denied two public records requests for the records, so the paper filed suit in May 2009.

“The WVSP say that a cold-case team regularly reviews all unsolved cases,” Kelly Wolff, the paper’s general manager, wrote in an email. “But it is now 10 years since any investigatory activities seem to really be indicated by the Vaughn Indices provided.”

The last hearing in the case was held in July 2011, and the ruling was announced — nearly two years later — last March.

“The WVSP objects to carte blanche disclosure of the entire criminal investigative file,” the court’s dismissal reads. “WVSP Superintendent asserts that FOIA exempts from public disclosure and dissemination records that are part of an active criminal investigation.”

Wolff says the cost to appeal is too high for the paper, and she doesn’t believe there would be a good chance of successfully appealing.

“I estimated it at another $2-3K,” Wolff wrote. “More than just the dollar amount, we considered the likelihood of success in the context of cost…The tautological reasoning on which the ruling relied (it is an active investigation if the WVSP say it is) didn’t seem to give us any way to challenge the argument made.”

Wolff said the current staff is still interested in acquiring the records, more than three years after the request process began.

“I would say that it’s not one specific thing anyone thinks might be found, but rather that after 15 years, the case is still unsolved, and yet is also still classified for the purpose of open records as an active investigation,” Wolff said. “At what point, and by what criteria, does that status end? When does the public have the right to know what was done on the case”