NASHVILLE (CN) - Four newspapers and five broadcasters sued Nashville for refusing to release records on an alleged campus rape by four former Vanderbilt University football players.
The Tennessean, The Associated Press et al
. sued the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County in Chancery Court, demanding records on the June 23, 2013 incident in which four former members of the team have been charged.
Each is charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, Tennessean reporter Brian Haas wrote in an Oct. 16 story under the headline "Much of Vanderbilt Rape Case Remains Secret."
The city and county blew off the requests for public records on the alleged rapes, which attracted national attention, the media say.
Haas and other reporters asked the defendant's police for records "regarding the alleged rape on the Vanderbilt campus and in which [Brandon] Vandenburg, [Brandon] Banks, [Corey] Batey and [Jaborian] McKenzie are charged."
The Police Department denied requests from Haas and other reporters, claiming the records "are part of an open criminal investigation/pending prosecution and, therefore, are presently exempt from disclosure."
But the plaintiffs say there is no such exemption.
"The State of Tennessee does not recognize a law enforcement investigative exception to the Public Records Act," the complaint states, citing a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling in Schneider vs. City of Jackson
The requested records "were created by third parties" and are not "reports, memoranda, or other internal state documents made by the district attorney general or other state agents or law enforcement officers," the newspapers say.
"(C)onflicting reports have arisen concerning the presence of certain individuals at or near the scene of the alleged crime. On the evening in question," the complaint states. "The Tennessean seeks to clarify the public reporting regarding this incident, including its own reporting. Plaintiffs/petitioners also seek to bring to light additional facts regarding this incident and the criminal justice system which have not yet been revealed through other means."
The newspapers and TV say they "are not seeking access to the video which has been reported was recorded during the actual alleged assault."
They do want other records, including records the Metro Police Department got from third parties, including text messages and videos prepared by third parties.
The mayor and city rebuffed the plaintiff's request to reconsider the denial, so the media sued.
The struggle for records is part of a larger battle in which schools at all levels are believed to-and often proved to-conceal criminal problems on campus, to try to preserve its public image, and, in the case of colleges, donations.
The plaintiffs want to see the records.
They are represented by Robb Harvey with Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis.