Tuesday, February 09, 1999

Enquirer asks court to release Fairfield letters

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP — The Cincinnati Enquirer went to court Monday to seek release of records that Fairfield Township officials are withholding.

        The township so far has refused to release copies of anonymous, harassing letters sent to township officials and township employees. The letters were part of an investigation that the Butler County Sheriff's Office conducted at the township's request.

        The township claims the letters are “confidential law enforcement investigatory records,” which would be exempt under Ohio's public records laws. The newspaper disagrees.

        “They were public records at the time they were received ... (and) the mere fact that the letters were delivered to the Butler County Sheriff — even if they were made part of an investigatory file — does not strip them of their status as public records,” Enquirer attorney John C. Greiner wrote in a complaint filed Monday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.

        In a telephone interview, Township Law Director Jack Grove said, “It's just another lawsuit, and we'll deal with it.”

        Mr. Grove, who has cited the township's willingness to release other records, called the court action “trigger-happy.” He said the the newspaper's lawyers filed the lawsuit rather than supplying further information he requested.

        But in an affidavit, Mr. Greiner said the court action came after Mr. Grove refused to reconsider the township's position and wouldn't provide a detailed, factual basis for denying the records.

        The newspaper is seeking a writ of mandamus, which would compel the township to release the records. The newspaper also is seeking reimbursement of its legal fees.

        The Enquirer requested the documents on Jan. 22, two days after Officer Donnie Greene was placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation continued. Last week, the sheriff's office said it was pulling out of the investigation and recommending that the FBI or another agency resume the probe.

        A township officer for about two years, Officer Greene was ordered to take a lie-detector test on Jan. 13 and was placed on leave seven days later. Police Chief D. Michael Kirsch gave no written reason but said the leave “is not disciplinary in nature.”

        The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38, which represents Fairfield Township officers and others, said Officer Greene should be reinstated to full duty. As of Monday, township officials weren't budging on the officer's administrative leave, Mr. Grove said.

        In response to an Enquirer records request, the township did supply hundreds of pages, including the personnel records of Officer Greene and the township's seven other full-time officers.

        The township, however, excluded the letters that spawned the investigation, leaving the newspaper to rely on officials' general characterizations of the letters. Col. Richard K. Jones, sheriff's chief deputy, said some of the letters could be interpreted as threatening.

        “The citizens of Ohio have the right to know the nature of threatening letters delivered to a public office,” Mr. Greiner said.


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