Ochsner v. Elon University
On March 2010, Elon University student journalist Nick Ochsner requested records about an on-campus arrest by campus police. Elon police provided a bare-bones documentation but did not provide the narrative associated with the incident report. Ochsner then requested the records from the North Carolina attorney general, citing a state law that establishes the attorney general as the custodian of all campus police records. This request was also denied because the attorney general’s office said it did not have the records. Ochsner sued the private school alleging violations of the North Carolina Public Records Act that states that even police departments supervised by private institutions must disclose arrest information. A trial court granted the school’s motion to dismiss, which Ochsner appealed. In June 2012, the state’s court of appeals sided with the school, saying that private school police records were exempt from the state’s public records statute. Ochsner appealed the decision, and the state’s supreme court elected to hear the case.
The SPLC, along with other media organizations, filed an amicus brief with the N.C. Supreme Court requesting that the lower court’s decision be overturned. The brief argues that the appeals court’s decision directly conflicts with the state’s public records law. The act states that all public or private school police departments with power granted by the attorney general are required to disclose information upon request. The SPLC brief also argues that private college police forces perform the same function as state-operated police agencies and that without public disclosure, the media’s ability to serve as a government watchdog is weakened.