The Daily Gamecock

Police chief says report will be available

Randy Scott to make redacted document available after delay in providing information

Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said a redacted police report will finally be made available today, five days after police responded to an early morning sexual assault allegation on Greene Street.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, said by not providing the incident report upon The Daily Gamecock’s initial request Monday, the police department broke the law. The public is entitled to know the crime occurred as well as its details, Rogers said.

Reports about the nature of a crime are legally open to the public, Rogers said, and the law allows names of victims of sexual assault to be redacted or blacked out. He added that newspapers wouldn’t print the names anyway.

“This is an important issue,” Rogers said. “No one is looking for the name of the victim.”

Scott’s statement comes after the Columbia Police Department repeatedly failed to provide the report to The Daily Gamecock. A reporter called the police department spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons twice Monday and sent an email asking if the police report would be available.

“Due to the on-going investigation and sensitive nature of the allegation, it would not be appropriate to release the incident report at the time,” Timmons said in an email response.

Releasing specific information would be premature, she added.

Rogers said a crime under investigation does not provide exemption from obeying the law.

“If that were the case, no report would ever be released,” he said.

Around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Timmons suggested submitting a Freedom of Information Act request after several inquiries about obtaining the police report.

To file a request, the city’s form or letter must be submitted via fax, mail or hand-delivered.

Jay Bender, an SCPA attorney, said the law states if a person appears at the police station, then that person can see police reports from the previous 14 days without a written request.

Two Daily Gamecock reporters went to the Columbia Police Department around 4:20 p.m. Tuesday and requested the incident report from the records department. The reporters were told by the records receptionist the information could only be obtained from Timmons, who he said was not available. The reporters waited in the lobby, called Timmons’ office phone and sent her an email. After less than 10 minutes, the receptionist told the reporters that Timmons had left for the day.

At 4:47 p.m., after the reporters had left, Timmons sent an email saying she and the assistant chief went to the lobby and the reporters were gone.

Around 5:30 p.m. The Daily Gamecock reached Scott, who said he would be available to talk at a later time.

Scott called back around 8:40 p.m. and said he had been busy all day Tuesday but would make the incident report available early today.

“Normally, the reports would be done,” Scott said. “But, I can tell you I’m extra sensitive on releasing information on reports on sexual assaults — for obvious reasons, because it is a traumatic incident to whomever is assaulted.”

Bender said when the General Assembly enacted the Freedom of Information Act, it summarized the importance of making public information available.

“It’s vital within a democratic society that public business be conducted in an open and public manner,” Bender said, quoting the legislation.