Tribune v. BYU: Judge defers decision on police records

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The ongoing court battle over BYU Police Department’s records came to a head May 14, when The Salt Lake Tribune and the university squared off in 3rd District Court Monday morning in Salt Lake City.

According to the Tribune’s attorney Michael O’Brien, the two argued for a little over two hours. No decision was reached, but Judge Laura Scott said she would “take it under consideration” and have an official judgment within the next 60 days.

Monday morning’s court hearing was the latest in a long series started in 2016, when the Tribune published a story on the dozens of BYU students who said they faced university discipline after reporting sexual assault.

The Tribune said while they were breaking the story they requested the communication transcripts between BYU police and the school’s Honor Code and Title IX offices, but were denied access. The Tribune asked for the records under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act. However, BYU police said they don’t have to release records because they are affiliated with a private university.

The Tribune sued after the State Records Committee denied its appeal to access the records.

According to state record administrators, BYU Police don’t operate under the same transparency requirements as other police officers across the state. The State Records Committee described BYU Police Department as a private institution, which means they aren’t subject to the rest of the state’s open-records laws.

Statutes and case law across the United States are mixed about whether private campus police departments are subject to state records laws, according to the Student Press Law Center.

In a high-profile case involving Notre Dame, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the Roman Catholic university police were not subject to that state’s records laws because they were not officially part of government. An Indiana legislative bill that would have restricted access to private institution records was vetoed by the then-Gov. Mike Pence, now President Trump’s vice president.

Only six states explicitly provide the public access to the records of police at private institutions: Ohio, Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas, the Student Press Law Center reports.

 

 

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