After repeated, unsuccessful requests for campus police records, an Otterbein University student journalist is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to order the private school to turn over arrest reports and other records.
The action filed yesterday says that the police department of the Westerville college is a public office performing a governmental function and is required to make records available under Ohio’s public-records laws.
Student journalists at the liberal-arts college have battled Otterbein over its refusal to release records since the campus security force became a full-fledged police department of state-certified officers in 2011.
“This is many, many denials later. It’s an issue of transparency for us. They are a public entity associated with a private university. Their records should be public,” said Anna Schiffbauer, news editor of Otterbein360.com, a student-run news website.
Schiffbauer, assisted by a $5,000 grant from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund, filed the claim against campus police director Larry Banaszak and Robert Gatti, a vice president and dean of student affairs.
The 22-year-old senior’s latest request for the records of 47 people arrested by campus police and referred to Westerville mayor’s court since the beginning of 2013 was denied last month by school officials.
School spokeswoman Jennifer Pearce said that Otterbein University is private and exempt from public-records laws, and she said that federal law requires it to protect certain information about students from release, including victims of sexual assault.