Updated June 3 with additional briefs filed with Court of Appeals.
The Tennessean and 10 other media organizations and related groups filed an open records lawsuit against Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County, challenging its assertion that police records in the Vanderbilt rape case are exempted from the Tennessee Public Records Act.
At issue is just how far the Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(2) goes in restricting access by the public to police records during an investigation or prosecution.
The coalition — which includes Tennessee Coalition for Open Government — contends 16(a)(2) is not a blanket exemption, and to make it so violates Tennessee statute and constitutional rights in the U.S. Constitution and Tennessee Constitution.
Chancellor Russell Perkins in a March 12 ruling agreed that 16(a)(2) is not a blanket exemption to the Tennessee Public Records Act, and ordered certain – but not all – police records be made public. He also recognized the role of the Tennessee Public Records Act in assuring transparency and openness in government, quoting former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who wrote “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants…”
The distinction Perkins made were for records “not developed internally and that do not constitute statements or other documents reflecting the reconstructive and investigative efforts of the
Metropolitan Police Department…” He said the coalition was entitled to text messages sent by smart phones close in time to when the alleged rape occurred — text messages that had been collected by police.
He also said the plaintiffs were entitled to inspect Vanderbilt access card information, Pano-scan data related to Vanderbilt University’s premises, emails recovered from potential witnesses and the criminal defendants — with all video, photos and identifying information of the alleged victim redacted.
However, he stayed his order to release certain records until an appeal could be made.
Filings in lawsuit over open records in Vanderbilt rape case
Following are links to the various court filings in the case, including Perkins’ March 12 ruling: