State attorney general says fraternity party police report exempt from law

University officials deny student paper's request for crime incident logs

MISSISSIPPI -- The state attorney general's office said in January that the University of Mississippi does not have to release campus crime reports or police logs pertaining to a 1999 fraternity party incident that sent five female students to the hospital.

The Daily Mississippian, the university's student newspaper, and The Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson newspaper, requested the reports from campus police shortly after the incident occurred in November. The university police department denied the requests. University Chancellor Robert Khayat then asked the attorney general's office to issue an opinion on the records' status under state open-records laws.

An opinion letter dated Jan. 7 from the state attorney general's office said "the records in question are exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act." The Mississippi Public Records Act exempts from disclosure law enforcement investigation records associated with an identifiable individual.

"It doesn't look like they're going to give us the information," said Chris Thompson, former editor of The Daily Mississippian. "We're leaning more toward filing a complaint with the Department of Education or seeking some legal counsel."

The attorney general's opinion did not address federal laws cited by the newspapers' requests that require disclosure of campus crime reports. The Clery Act of 1998 obligates colleges and universities to make campus crime logs available for public inspection or risk losing their federal funding. A school is not compelled to release the information if there is evidence that its release would jeopardize an ongoing investigation; however, the school can only withhold the specific information that would put the investigation at risk.

When the newspapers requested information about the fraternity party, they also asked for campus crime incident reports and police log information having to do with rape or other felonies filed during the week of the party. This request was also rejected.

The Daily Mississippian did not receive a response to its request within the 14 days required by the state open-records law. After a faculty member informed a Daily Mississippian staff writer that the attorney general's opinion existed, Mary Ann Connell, the university's attorney, provided the newspaper with a copy of the report. Connell told the newspaper that she thought it had already been informed of the university's decision to deny the requested documents.

The university's faculty senate passed a resolution written by journalism faculty in February supporting The Daily Mississippian's efforts to gain access to the police records.

"I think there is a profound sense of cynicism on the campus among administrators," said Karen Raber, an English professor, at a senate meeting. "The fact is, this is part of the pattern and withholding information doesnít remedy any problem."

reports, Spring 2000