The Ohio State Supreme Court ruled last week that police officer’s names can be redacted from reports or kept secret by the department if revealing their identity would put them at risk of injury or death. While police officers are no doubt pleased with the ruling, members of the press and of the communities that have been shook by police shootings are not so sure.
The case involved two police officers who were shot in a confrontation with the Iron Horsemen motorcycle gang in a Cincinnati bar in 2010. The Cincinnati Enquirer sought the names of the officers but the department refused to release them, saying the “national enforcer” of the motorcycle gang was killed in the confrontation and releasing the names of the officers involved would put them in danger.
The court determined that officers’ right to privacy “supersedes Ohio’s public-records laws,” and that when an officer faces potential backlash by the releasing of his or her name, it can be kept quiet.
No one wants to see police officers targeted because of their work, particularly when they act within the laws and respect the rights of citizens. But some are worried the precedent set by the courts could be a slippery slope.
“I’m concerned going forward that courts may give an inordinate amount of deference to the decisions of police chiefs in withholding officer names based not on any specific threat, but a generalized concern for officer safety,” remarked Jack Griener, a Cincinnati lawyer representing the Enquirer.
Police officers are “at risk” simply because of the nature of their work. How will the department determine that any one officer is at a greater risk and deserves a secret identity? Couldn’t they rationalize keeping all officer identities secret if a risk of injury is justification enough?
Twenty-one year old Obbie Shepard was shot and killed by police on August 26, 2011. The identities of the officers involved were kept hidden. The officer who pulled the trigger was found innocent of any wrongdoing. But the public never learned his name, leading to unrest in the South Side community.
When a citizen is suspected of a crime, his name and photo are plastered across news media sources for everyone to see. When a cop kills a suspect, however, they are shielded from similar coverage.
No two criminal cases are the same, and it often seems that certain segments of the population are treated less severely than others. When you are accused of a crime, you may have doubts about how you will be treated. Having a local defense lawyer on your side can help.
Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and the options available to you. The consultation is free.