CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Tuesday the West Virginia Supreme Court will begin to decide whether the State Police is required to release records detailing how it handles allegations of abuse and misconduct by officers.
State Police do not say what happens to officers who are investigated for complaints of misconduct and have sought to keep those details a secret, arguing release would be an invasion of officers' privacy.
In 2010 The Charleston Gazette sued the State Police, asking for reports from their Professional Standards section, which handles internal investigations. The lawsuit was filed after requests for public information from State Police and the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety were repeatedly denied.
In May 2012, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey sided with State Police in keeping that public information hidden, saying, "The public interest does not require disclosure."
The Gazette appealed Bailey's order to the state Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on Tuesday.
Any decision that the Supreme Court makes in the case would set precedent for how the public learns about police misconduct investigations in the future.
Sean McGinley, with the Charleston law firm DiTrapano, Barrett and DiPiero, is representing the Gazette.
McGinley argues that police work is public information and not subject to exemption under privacy laws.
"Nearly all other courts have found police officers have no privacy interest in similar records, and the lower court's holding if affirmed, would make West Virginia a lone voice for un-accountability and lack of transparency," he wrote in the appeal.
Investigations of alleged police misconduct and their outcomes are done entirely in secret and there is no public accountability whatsoever, McGinley said.