Public Access Opinion 23-009

Police Reports Concerning Public Employee Arrested and Charged with Crimes Against a Minor are Not Exempt from Disclosure in the Entireties under the Personal Privacy Exemption

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 23-009
Date: Friday, June 16, 2023

On March 22, 2023, Reporter submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the South Beloit (City) Police Department (Department), seeking copies of all Department documents “with the redactions to the juvenile victim’s name and other identifying information,” concerning a former teacher and coach at South Beloit Junior High School who had been charged in 2009 with indecent solicitation, criminal sexual assault, and battery involving a student.

The Department denied the request in its entirety pursuant to Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA, asserting that “[d]ue to the status of the victim as a juvenile at the time of the offense, and due to the nature of the offense, disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”. The Department additionally stated that “there were no other recorded incidents involving [teacher] within the South Beloit Police Department.”

Reporter replied to the Department, disputing its denial by contending that it “has not shown how the victim in this case can be identified, even after the juvenile victim’s name and any other identifying information have been redacted.” City’s responded  that the denial was proper, stating, “My review of the requested police reports reveal that the reports contain detailed, sensitive, and extremely personal statements regarding assault and battery of a sexual nature against a juvenile.”

Reporter submitted a Request for Review to the Public Access Counselor (PAC) contesting the denial of her request. The PAC sent a copy of the Request for Review to the City’s attorney, along with a letter requesting unredacted copies of any withheld records for the PAC’s confidential review, together with a detailed explanation of the bases for the applicability of the Section 7(1)(c) exemption. City’s attorney responded, and the PAC forwarded the response letter to Reporter, but Reporter notified the PAC that she would stand on her original complaint.

Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA exempts from disclosure “[p]ersonal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Section 7(1)(c) defines “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” as “the disclosure of information that is highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.”

The PAC concluded that the Department violated the requirements of FOIA by denying Reporter’s request in its entirety. The PAC found that there is legitimate public interest in disclosure of information concerning criminal offenses committee by a public school teacher against a minor student, and noted that the student’s identifying information, and any “graphic or salacious details of any sexual offense,” could be redacted to protect the student’s privacy interests.

The PAC directed the Department to provide Reporter with copies of the responsive records, subject to the redaction of the victim’s identifying information and limited graphic details. Additionally, the PAC told the Department it may redact information that meets the plain language of the definition of “private information” under Section 7(1)(b) of FOIA, and information that would unavoidably identify members of the public who provided the Department with information relating to the investigation under Section 7(1)(d)(iv) of FOIA.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.

Mary H. Bandstra, IASB Law Clerk