INDIANA — The public is now able to watch video footage showing an interaction between police officers and a Purdue Exponent photojournalist after the newspaper sued for access to the footage.
On Thursday the Tippecanoe County prosecutor approved Purdue University’s proposal to post on its website the video showing the detention of the photographer in the university’s Electrical Engineering Building after a Jan. 21 homicide in that building. On Wednesday, the university received court authorization to make the video available pending sign-off by the county prosecutor, according to a news release from the university.
But that doesn’t automatically resolve the lawsuit, which the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed in Tippecanoe Superior Court on Aug. 12. The lawsuit argues the university erroneously claimed the video footage was evidence of a crime and failed to release the footage to the newspaper under the state’s public records law.
Although the video was uploaded to YouTube and linked on the university website Thursday afternoon, the university’s actions are not consistent with the newspaper’s initial public records request, said Pat Kuhnle, Exponent publisher and general manager, because they requested access to a copy of the footage.
“There may be additional video out there, different angles from different cameras,” he said. “From what they released, it is inconsistent with a police investigation, and therefore they violated the public access laws.”
On Jan. 21, Purdue student and teaching assistant Andrew Boldt was shot and stabbed to death in the basement of the Electrical Engineering Building. Police used crime scene tape to seal off the first-floor entrances of the building, but did not close access through a skyway from a neighboring building. To obtain photographs, Michael Takeda, who was an Exponent photo editor at the time, entered the building through the skywalk.
When police officers discovered Takeda on the second floor of the Electrical Engineering Building less than an hour after Boldt was killed, Takeda was detained.
The photographer was then “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 complaint alleges.
Twice since May the university has showed Exponent officials the video footage as part of the university’s investigation of Takeda’s police detention, according to the release. However, “out of deference to the prosecutor’s homicide investigation,” the university declined to release the video publicly, citing an exception in the state’s public records law for investigatory records.
The university’s court filing also seeks confirmation that it complied with the state’s open records law, which was previously upheld by the Indiana public access counselor.
“Over the past six months, we have respectfully explained to the Exponent our position on the investigatory records exception,” Steve Schultz, Purdue’s legal counsel, said in the release. “The Indiana Legislature has seen fit to shield law enforcement investigations from public disclosure, and the Public Access Counselor has advised that this shield is one of the broadest in our public records law.”
In an interview with the local television station WLFI, Purdue President Mitch Daniels, the state’s former governor, said he did not see the security footage as a “violent” video.
In a June 13 supplemental report, Purdue stated that “the wall bump, whether minor, should not have occurred, and the involved officer has been admonished accordingly.” The report also said the photographer and an Exponent editor was told the building was closed to the public before he entered the building. Kuhnle said the photographer never spoke with police before he entered the building.
But the issue at hand, Kuhnle said, is not about the video’s content or the incident interaction between the photographer and police.
“Our lawsuit was about public documents, not about police brutality, but what you see in the video is actions that are inconsistent with what the official police report was of the initial events,” he said.
Contact SPLC staff writer Mark Keierleber by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.