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AG’s office rules Baylor campus PD sexual assault records may be withheld

Despite the passage of a law TAB championed in the 2015 Legislature, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled that Baylor University may withhold certain campus police records.

At issue are university police reports detailing sexual assault cases involving former Baylor football players against student victims.

TAB and other groups worked to pass SB 308 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, because of the difficulty the public and broadcast newsrooms had in holding police departments at private universities and colleges accountable.

Such records were previously not subject to release under the Texas Public Information Act.

Texas is one of a handful of states that have such a law.  

TAB argued that private campus police records should be public because campus police are certified by the state and had the power to enforce state laws.

In an opinion letter to Baylor, Asst. Attorney General David Wheelus said the university may withhold records that detail sexual assaults committed by former football players because release of the records would violate the victims' privacy rights.

In this particular case, the three victims involved had made their identities known to ESPN which along with the Associated Press had filed Texas Public Information Act requests for the reports.

“Anybody with common sense would say that common law privacy does not apply to all the information,” Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, the House bill author, told the Dallas Morning News.

Joe Larsen, an attorney with TAB Associate Member law firm Sedgwick LLP, agreed. 

“You already know that this person is the victim of a sexual assault, so I’m not sure what privacy interests you’re really protecting,” Larsen said in an interview with the newspaper.

Open Records advocates say the ruling sets a bad precedent and was issued despite the fact that newsrooms typically do not name victims when reporting on sexual assault cases, unless the victim wants their identity known.

“Baylor is being criticized for the way it has handled sexual assault allegations against its football players,” said Michael Schneider, TAB’s V.P. for legislative and regulatory affairs.

“Newsrooms have a duty to report when law enforcement may, or may not, be impeding or ignoring crimes committed.   These records help newsrooms hold the university police department accountable.”

Baylor is feeling the heat from alumni, current students and even the McLennan Co. District Attorney’s Office over the university’s response to sexual assault allegations involving its football players.

The McLennan County assistant district attorney who prosecuted two former Baylor football players has been critical of Baylor's handling of sexual assault complaints.

Hilary LaBorde told The Associated Press that in one case, the university "did not validate" the sex assault claim made against the player by another Baylor student.

She noted that whether an assault allegation proceeds to a university review or police investigation largely depends on how receptive Baylor is to women claiming they were victimized.

"I do think the way Baylor is treating them affects whether they go to the police," LaBorde told AP.

Read AP’s complete story here

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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