Student newspaper files lawsuit to gain access to police report

MICHIGAN -- The student newspaper at Michigan State University filed a lawsuit Friday to gain access to a campus police incident report of an alleged Feb. 23 assault on campus.

And an attorney representing the student paper said a judge is scheduled to make a decision on the whether the incident report is public record May 31.

''They enjoy all the same powers and privileges that a local police department would, so I think they need to be held to the same standards,'' said Nick Mrozowski, editor in chief of The State News. ''We are just asking them to follow our state's laws.''

The university previously denied two state Freedom of Information Act requests for the incident report made by the student paper, said university spokesman Terry Denbow.

''Our decisions to deny the reporter's FOIA request and appeal were based on our belief that we should use available FOIA exceptions to protect the integrity of the criminal process and the safety and privacy of individuals caught up in that process,'' said a May 9 statement issued by the university.

Prosecuting attorney Stuart Dunnings sent a letter to campus police Chief Jim Dunlap on May 4 saying the investigation into the alleged assasult would be compromised if the police reports were released. Dunnings' letter was attached to the university's statement.

Herschel Fink, a Detroit attorney representing the student newspaper, said the university's reasons for not handing over the incident report are ''bogus'' and''not recognized by the law.''

Mrozowski said the alleged assault has generated a lot of controversy on campus and student journalists want the incident report to more clearly report the facts of the case.

''It became pretty high profile. We felt like part of our job is to sort out the many different stories people were hearing and figure out which one was true,'' he said. ''One way to do that is to see the incident report.''

In late February, one student and two nonstudents allegedly used a handgun to threaten three victims in a campus dormitory, according to an article in The State News. They also poured gasoline on a victim and threatened to light it, according to the article.

''The law says these are public records,'' Fink said. ''Like any good journalist, the newspaper wants to see what the official records say. They want to know what the facts are, what happened in this incident. And they want to write about it. It's really as simple as that.''

Mrozowski said he hopes ultimately to be able to have full access to campus police incident reports.

''If we can't find out what the police department has been up to, we aren't looking out for our readers,'' he said. ''I like to think of it in terms of if I had been arrested for something, and I felt I was wrongly arrested, I would want someone to be able to read my report. I wouldn't want it locked up in a drawer somewhere.''

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