HomeTop StoriesThe police violated the access law in the Delphi case

The police violated the access law in the Delphi case

March 3 – Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter had bad news for the assembled reporters.

“While I know you all expect the latest details on this arrest today, today is not that day,” he said. “Today is not that day. This investigation is far from complete and we will not compromise its integrity by releasing any documents or information before the appropriate time.”

There will always be some tension between the role of the news media in keeping the public informed and the role of a police station in protecting an investigation.

Still, October 31, 2022 was not the day law enforcement should have released information about the long-awaited arrest of a suspect in the deaths of two Delphi teens.

That announcement should have come days earlier, on October 26, the day the authorities actually made the arrest and put the suspect in jail. But the police did not announce that that day.

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Nor did they make it to the next day, the day when they should have submitted a daily log of the department’s activities from the previous day.

Police also did not release any information on the following day, Oct. 28, the day Ron Wilkins, a reporter for the Journal & Courier in Lafayette, filed a request for public records. The day after, the day Wilkins’ request was denied, they didn’t release it either.

By the time the police finally acknowledged they had made an arrest, the suspect had already been in jail for five days. He had appeared in court and a judge had sealed the affidavit, the document on which his arrest was based.

This is not the way the US justice system is supposed to work.

Days after the press conference, Wilkins filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, and that agency issued a ruling on February 10.

Funnily enough, the state police responded with an argument the access advisor had dismissed more than two years earlier when a reporter from The Herald Bulletin requested a copy of the agency’s daily log. They argued that while the law requires such a log to be made within 24 hours, it does not require the log to actually be made available for public inspection. Instead, they stressed, the law allows government agencies 21 days to respond to record requests, and the same period should apply here.

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In the Delphi case, Luke Britt, the access consultant, repeated what he had said earlier: the law requires police stations to keep a public record of their activities, and it goes without saying that this record must be readily available to the public.

Britt also rejected a second argument, that sealing court records complicated the role of police agencies in releasing information. He pointed out that a police log is not a police report and is therefore not covered by a judge’s seal.

Britt shouldn’t have to keep repeating herself for the state police to get the message.

They are charged with enforcing the law. Nor should they ignore it.

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