Investigative reports into alleged misconduct by police officers must be made public even if the accusations are not upheld, says a Washington Supreme Court ruling reported by the Seattle Times. Eight of the nine justices found that the reports can’t be withheld on privacy grounds because the public has a “legitimate interest” in knowing how the allegations were investigated. Five justices found that the names of officers who have been exonerated may be redacted from the records for privacy reasons.
The ruling means the public, private attorneys and the media will have greater access to information that could shed more light on police investigations and help shape decisions regarding potential lawsuits and news stories. The decision stemmed from criminal and internal investigations of Bainbridge Island police Officer Steven Cain, who was cleared of allegations that he sexually assaulted and choked a woman during a traffic stop in 2007. The woman who made the allegation, Bainbridge Island attorney Kim Koenig, sought the records related to the investigations, along with a Bainbridge Island citizen and two journalists, including one for the Kitsap Sun. Superior Court judges in two counties held that the records could be withheld under privacy provisions of the state’s Public Records Act.