FRANKFORT (AP) — The Kentucky attorney general’s office on Monday sided with a man seeking a former police detective’s personnel records, saying the questionable motives raised by a police department were “legally irrelevant.”
The opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Michelle D. Harrison said the police department in Jeffersontown, a Louisville suburb, violated the state’s open records law by denying the request.
AG’s opinions are legally binding in disputes involving Kentucky’s open records law but can be appealed to circuit court. Jeffersontown City Attorney Schuyler Olt said he had not yet thoroughly reviewed the opinion.
Rick Sanders, Jeffersontown’s police chief during the records dispute, was recently appointed as the new Kentucky State Police commissioner by Gov. Matt Bevin.
In the open-records case, Anthony C. Clyburn sought copies of personnel records, recordings, videotape, correspondence and reports regarding any allegations of wrongdoing against the former longtime detective, Roscoe Scott. Clyburn said he was a member of the news media.
Scott had previously led a police investigation into Clyburn’s allegations that his child had been the victim of sexual abuse. The investigation resulted in no charges.
In denying Clyburn’s records request, the police department cited the private nature of the records sought and the “highly questionable veracity” of his claims to be a reporter.
The department saw Clyburn’s request as part of a personal vendetta against the former detective.
Olt said Monday that the motivation in denying the records request was to protect the privacy of the child who was the alleged sexual assault victim. That person is now an adult but did not request the records, Olt said.
“There were so many unusual quirks to this request, we wanted to proceed very cautiously,” he said.
Harrison, in writing the AG’s opinion, said the police department could have redacted personal information in the records, but added: “Such records are certainly of significant public interest, notwithstanding the purportedly questionable motivation of Mr. Clyburn, which is legally irrelevant.”
“The former police officer accused of wrongdoing and ultimately exonerated was a public employee in whom the public had placed its trust and whose job performance was a matter of legitimate public interest,” Harrison added. “Accordingly, the public has a significant interest in accessing records from which it can determine whether the public agency discharged its duty to properly and thoroughly investigate any complaints that were received, including Mr. Clyburn’s.”
The opinion said Sanders spoke with Clyburn in July 2015 and the police chief told him he would consult the city attorney about the records request. Weeks later, Clyburn contacted the police department’s records custodian, but a written response to his request wasn’t provided until January 2016, it said.
Olt said Monday that Sanders supports police transparency but he “saw the same complication in this particular case that I saw” with the competing privacy interests.
“This is a very unusual case,” the city attorney said. “It’s been my experience that Rick, if he’s going to err, he’s going to err on the side of releasing.”