Ohio Supreme Court denies motion to dismiss private university police records suit

OHIO — The Ohio Supreme Court announced Wednesday a former Otterbein University student’s suit against the institution to determine whether private university police departments are subject to the state’s public records law can proceed.

The state’s highest court denied the private university’s motion to dismiss the case, which was filed in February 2014 after the university police department denied Anna Schiffbauer’s public records request for 47 individuals’ criminal reports.

A recent Otterbein University graduate, Schiffbauer was the news editor of Otterbein360, a student-run online news organization, when she filed the lawsuit. Schiffbauer has also completed an internship with the Student Press Law Center.

In its motion to dismiss the case, filed in July, the police department argued it is not required to disclose arrest reports because they are not records of a “public office.”

“Otterbein believes we are not subject to Public Records and therefore do not make our records public,” Robert Gatti, vice president and dean for student affairs, said in his denial of Schiffbauer’s public records request.

Otterbein student journalists have struggled to gain access to police records since the campus security transitioned to a full-fledged, commissioned police force in 2011. Before that, the Westerville city police handled crimes on campus, and arrest information and other public records were available through that department.

In August, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that records maintained by a private university’s police department should be held to the same standards as other law enforcement agencies in Ohio.