Police violated access laws in Delphi case

Police violated access laws in Delphi case

March 3—Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter had some bad news for the assembled reporters.

“While I know you all are hoping for final details on this arrest, today is not the day,” he said. “Today is not that day. This investigation is far from complete, and we will not jeopardize its integrity by releasing documents or information before the appropriate time.”

There will always be some tension between the role of the news media to keep the public informed and the role of a police agency to protect the investigation.

Still, Oct. 31, 2022, was not the day law enforcement authorities should have released information about the arrest of a suspect in the deaths of two Delphi teenagers.

That announcement should have come days earlier, on Oct. 26, the day authorities actually arrested and jailed the suspect. But the police did not make any announcement that day.

Nor did they produce it the next day, a daily log listing the department’s activities from the day before they should have been made available for public inspection.

Police also did not release the information until the next day, Oct. 28, when Ron Wilkins, a reporter for the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, made a public records request. They did not publish it until the day after Wilkins’ request was denied.

After police finally admitted they had made an arrest, the suspect was in jail for five days. He appeared in court, and a judge sealed the probable cause affidavit, the document based on which he was arrested.

That’s not how the American justice system is supposed to work.

A few days after the press conference, Wilkins filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, and that office issued a ruling on February 10.

Incredibly, the state police responded using an argument that access councilors rejected more than two years ago when a reporter from The Herald Bulletin asked for a copy of the agency’s daily log. They argued that while the law requires such a log to be created within 24 hours, the log is not actually required to be made available for public inspection. Instead, they stressed, the law allows public agencies to respond to records requests for 21 days, and that same period should apply here.

In Delphi’s case, access counselor Luke Britt reiterated what he said earlier: The law requires police agencies to maintain a public record of their activities, and it stands to reason that the record should be readily available to the public.

Britt also rejected a second argument, that sealing court records complicates the role of police agencies in releasing information. He noted that a police log is not a court record and thus not covered by the judge’s seal.

Britt doesn’t have to repeat himself to get a message from the state police.

Law enforcement charges against them. They should not be flauting it.

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