CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- West Virginia State Police cannot keep all information about their completed internal investigations a secret, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, and ordered a Kanawha County circuit judge to determine what secret police documents should be opened.
In 2010, the Charleston Gazette sued the State Police after requests for information about officer misconduct from the State Police and the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety were repeatedly denied. State Police had sought to keep hidden information from its Professional Standards section, which handles internal investigations.
In May 2012, Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey sided with the State Police in keeping that information hidden. The Gazette appealed Bailey's order to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments in October. State Supreme Court justices unanimously returned Bailey's order on Tuesday.
Tuesday's Supreme Court order returned the case to Bailey, and ordered her to review the disputed documents behind closed doors and determine what information in them is subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act.
Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman wrote in Tuesday's opinion that information about a State Police officer's duties while on the job did not meet a privacy exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.
She compared the State Police's internal investigations to court rulings in previous Gazette lawsuits requiring the release of misconduct allegations against doctors and lawyers. In these cases, the public interest outweighs any need to keep the information private, she wrote.
"After the investigation or inquiry into [a] complaint has been concluded and a determination made as to whether disciplinary action is authorized by the Superintendent, the public has a right to access the complaint, all documents in the case file, and the disposition, with the names of the complainants or any other identifying information redacted in accordance with the confidentiality requirements," Workman wrote.
State Police Superintendent Col. C.R. "Jay" Smithers released a statement Tuesday.