Media groups join briefs in support of opening N.C. private police records

NORTH CAROLINA — Nine organizations have joined briefs in support of an Elon University alumnus’ efforts to make private school police department records public in North Carolina.

Nick Ochsner, a 2011 graduate, appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court after an appellate court ruled in June that private university police records were not subject to the state’s public records law.

Elon denied Ochsner’s request for the arrest report narrative concerning a March 2010 on-campus arrest, giving him only the suspect’s name, date and location of the incident, charges and bond amount. A district court and the state’s Court of Appeals said that information was sufficient.

The state’s Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in August. Ochsner’s first brief in the case was submitted Monday, along with an amicus brief signed by the Student Press Law Center, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

A second amicus brief was submitted on behalf of four N.C. news organizations, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, WRAL, The Alamance News and UNC’s The Daily Tar Heel.

“Every major national journalism organization in country essentially wrote the court yesterday and told them that what the Court of Appeals found was wrong,” Nick Ochsner said.

The briefs address both the statutory and public policy issues with the court’s ruling and the law.

“We don’t need agencies out there with the power of arrest who are not subject to public disclosure,” said attorney Ann Ochsner, Nick Ochsner’s mother, who is representing him. “College campuses, public and private, are densely populated areas.”

Elon’s police department operates with the same police powers as any other public police agencies, including the power of arrest, Ann Ochsner said. The appellate court’s ruling says the records created by Elon’s police are not subject to public records laws even though they are created through the use of the same powers granted to public police agencies.

By Bailey McGowan, SPLC staff writer. Contact McGowan by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.

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