Lawsuit against Purdue U. seeks video footage of encounter between police, student photojournalist

Indiana — A student newspaper filed suit Tuesday against Purdue University for denying access to surveillance video footage that purportedly shows police manhandling a student photojournalist after he tried to report on a fatal shooting on campus.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in Tippecanoe Superior Court, argues the university erroneously claimed the video footage was evidence of a crime and failed to release the footage to The Purdue Exponent under the state’s public records law.

“I can understand why Purdue does not want the release of this video, because the average person will find it disturbing,” Exponent Publisher and General Manager Pat Kuhnle said. “We would certainly want to show the video on our website so people can make their own judgments about what they see.”

On Jan. 21, Purdue student and teaching assistant Andrew Boldt was shot and stabbed to death in the basement of the Electrical Engineering Building on the Purdue campus.

Police used crime scene tape to seal off the first-floor entrances of the building, but did not close access through a skywalk from a neighboring building. To obtain photographs of the scene, Michael Takeda, who was an Exponent photo editor at the time, entered the building through the skywalk.

Soon after, he encountered police officers.

“Although he immediately identified himself as an Exponent photographer, raising his hands, each of which was holding a camera, he was pushed roughly to the ground causing damage to his camera equipment, then pulled to his feet and shoved into a wall, and subsequently detained without accusation, interrogation, or charges for several hours,” the lawsuit said.

On Feb. 5, Exponent officials filed a public records request with the university asking for a copy of security camera footage showing the photographer’s interaction with the law enforcement officers. Although Takeda and Kuhnle were allowed to view the footage, Purdue officials said on March 4 they would not provide the newspaper a copy of the records, citing an exception in Indiana’s public records law that excludes the disclosure of the investigatory records of law enforcement agencies.

However, Kelly Eskew, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Indiana, argued the records requested relate solely to the interaction between Takeda and law enforcement officers, and are separate from Boldt’s killing. Therefore, the records do not fall under the exception.

In its initial denial, Kuhnle said he was told the university would not release the footage because it was evidence related to the shooting. But after the university’s attorney got involved, Kuhnle said, university officials said access to the footage was denied because the photographer was under investigation for criminal trespass.

“The question now becomes ‘what is the basis of their denial?’” Kuhnle said, adding that although the university’s attorney said Takeda could be charged for trespassing, such charges have not been pursued.

“We take that as a veiled threat,” Kuhnle said.

On March 5, Exponent officials submitted a formal complaint to the Indiana Public Access Counselor. In an undated letter, the university responded to the formal complaint and said law enforcement obtained and compiled “all of the video recordings regarding events on the West Lafayette campus.” Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt ruled in favor of the university.

On Tuesday, Purdue spokeswoman Elizabeth Evans said the university has followed the requirements of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act “as confirmed by the Public Access Counselor.” She did not provide additional information.

While the lawsuit filed Tuesday is an attempt to gain access to the video footage, Kuhnle said that once the newspaper receives the records “we will make an assessment of our next legal steps.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Mark Keierleber by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.