Michigan State sues ESPN over network's FOIA request

Michigan State University filed a lawsuit against ESPN after a reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the university police department for reports related to sexual assault allegations.

After the university announced that it had suspended three student athletes and an employee in regards to a sexual assault investigation, ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne requested police reports between Dec. 16 and Feb. 10, and any arrest reports made between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9.

MSU Spokesman Jason Cody said the university is suing to receive a declaratory judgment from the Court of Claims because they have been caught between two requests: one from ESPN, which sued MSU for similar documents in the past and won, and another from Ingham County Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McCormick.

“We typically would take those records, redact them appropriately per the FOIA statute and then release them,” Cody said. “In this specific case, we have a media outlet that’s asking us to do that and we also have the chief law enforcement officer in the county…telling us that the release of any information, even in redacted form, could potentially threaten the case.”

In Michigan, county prosecutors serve and charge citizens, as opposed to district attorneys.

When university police concluded their investigation, they sent all of the findings to the county prosecutor’s office, which took over the investigation.

“This is not a question of if the records are going to be released. We’re going to release them. It’s just a matter of when,” Cody said.

Cody said they would typically redact the names of witnesses and victims of crimes from police records, but not the suspects.

Three football players were suspended as a result of an investigation into an incident reported on Jan. 16 that allegedly happened on campus property.

Cody said there was also a staff member who was suspended with pay in relation to whether or not the employee followed proper reporting protocol in regard to the incident.

According to the Lansing State Journal, Curtis Blackwell, the football program’s director of college advancement and performance, was suspended with pay on Feb. 9, but the university said it would not comment about the reasoning for the suspension or whether Blackwell was involved in the sexual assault investigation.

The university contracted Detroit law firm Jones Day to look specifically at whether MSU football staff complied with university policies in reporting the incident.

MSU is also under fire for its handling of sexual assault allegations because of the lawsuit against former employee and women’s gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, who has been accused of sexually assaulting almost 10 gymnasts who went to him for medical treatment.

Cody said the university hired Rebecca Veidlinger to help with the university’s Title IX investigation into the recent report because the other investigators already had full caseloads and the complexity of the case deserved undivided attention.

ESPN’s counsel could not be reached as of press time.