Ohio's top court says police dash-cam video is public record

Posted at 11:49 AM, Dec 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-06 11:49:58-05

Video footage from police cruiser dash cams is a public record that, with some exceptions, should be promptly released upon request, the state's highest court ruled Tuesday.

The Ohio Supreme Court's unanimous decision came in a case involving a State Highway Patrol chase last year on Interstate 71.

The state denied a request by The Cincinnati Enquirer for video of the Jan. 22, 2015, pursuit, saying the footage was a "confidential law enforcement investigatory record" and, thus, an exception under public records law. The video documents the troopers' real-time investigative activities, the state argued.

The Supreme Court rejected the state's arguments, though the court said some material could be shielded on a case-by-case basis if it was deemed part of a criminal investigation.

"The dash-cam recordings fit within the definition of a `record' because they document governmental activities, decisions, and operations during a traffic stop and pursuit," Justice Judi French said in the court's opinion.

French said about 90 seconds of the video -- when the suspect was taken to a cruiser, read his rights and questioned -- could have been shielded as part of the investigation.

"In the end, we hold that decisions about whether an exception to public-records disclosure applies to dash-cam recordings require a case-by-case review to determine whether the requested recordings contain investigative work product," French said.

The court denied the newspaper's request for attorneys' fees, saying the state acted reasonably in withholding the video until the criminal case was over.

That brought a rebuke from Justice William O'Neill, who said the fees should have been granted.

It is "wrong for this court to recognize the clear public interest in police dash-cam recordings and then to deny the Enquirer reasonable attorney fees after it shed light on this ongoing dispute between the state's need for privacy and the public's right to know what is going on," O'Neill said.

Still pending before the court is a related argument over police body camera footage.