Opinion says alleged rape suspect's name should have been public record

KENTUCKY -- The state attorney general has ruled that police in Lexington were wrong to withhold the name of a former University of Kentucky basketball player who was investigated but never charged for an alleged rape at a university residence hall.

The opinion, written by Assistant Attorney General Ayme Bensenhaver and released March 7, said Lexington police improperly redacted the player's name in its responses to two open records requests filed in May 2005 and November 2005 by reporters from the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The alleged rape occurred in April 2005 at the Wildcat Lounge, a University of Kentucky residence hall that housed 16 university basketball players, according to a Herald-Leader article.

According to an article in the Herald Leader, police have never publicly named a suspect in the case, which was shelved in August 2005 when a county judge decided not to proceed with the criminal complaint.

In redacting the player's name from the records, police cited a Kentucky statute that protected the privacy of a suspect who had not been arrested or charged with a crime.

But the attorney general's ruling said the suspect in the case was a public figure who, ''by virtue of this status, forfeits, to some extent, his privacy interest.''

The opinion also noted that the situation mirrored an October 2005 decision in which the attorney general ruled Lexington police were wrong to withhold the name of Lexington Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon from a police report in which Scanlon was accused of assaulting a car salesman.

''Questions related to the thoroughness of the investigation and the impartiality of the prosecution can best be resolved through unimpeded access to the underlying records,'' the opinion said.

Tom Eblen, managing editor of the Herald-Leader, said the newspaper's primary concern with its open records requests was ''full disclosure.''

''We had a big interest in making sure the case was fully investigated,'' he said. ''University of Kentucky basketball is a big deal, and the natural tendency would be for things like this to go away.''

Eblen said that following the alleged rape, there were early indications that the police investigation was not entirely thorough, and that the newsroom felt strongly about the case.

''In the end it was fully investigated,'' he said. ''And it might not have been had we not been watchdogs.''

Bruce Edwards, spokesman for Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac, said the city's law department was still reviewing the attorney general's opinion. No decision has been made as to whether the city will appeal the opinion.

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