(Photo by Julie O’Donoghue)
LSU has been ordered to release records without most redactions of a university police investigation into former college football star Derrius Guice, who was accused of taking a semi-nude photo of a fellow student without her consent in 2016.
A Baton Rouge state court also ordered the university to pay a $100 per day fine — amounting to $6,200 overall — for every work day that the records were withheld since the request was made last August. LSU must also pay $10,000 in attorneys’ fees incurred by the plaintiffs and related court costs as a result of the judgment.
In a judgment signed Dec. 29, Judge Janice Clark found that LSU “was unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious in its refusal and delay and the redacted way in which the documents were produced.”
The decision was the result of a lawsuit brought against LSU by USA TODAY and Samantha Brennan, the former LSU student who said Guice took her photo without her permission. Brennan appeared in an article published by the newspaper.
“FINALLY! The verdict we’ve been waiting for,” Brennan wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.
Brennan, who had worked for the LSU athletic department as a student, had sought to get records regarding her report to university police about Guice.
Initially, LSU wouldn’t release the full police report. But after Brennan’s lawsuit was filed, the school handed over more of the record, albeit a heavily redacted version. The names of Brennan, Guice and witness Luke Dudley were all blacked out in the released report.
In her judgment, Clark said the university has to release the records without blacking out Guice and Dudley’s names, though Brennan’s name — the potential victim’s name — could remain concealed.
“USA TODAY took a principled stand. They took a principled stand and said ‘Look. This is not ok,’” said Scott Sternberg, a New Orleans-based attorney who represented the newspaper and Brennan.
LSU has already filed paperwork to appeal the ruling.
“The court ruling may deter victims, witnesses or bystanders from reporting or participating in investigations of misconduct as their identities will no longer be protected,” wrote Winston DeCuir Jr., LSU’s vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, in a statement.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting our students’ physical safety, privacy, and well-being, we reviewed the ruling and will appeal the decision because of the long-term implications for students participating in the university’s investigatory process,” he added.
USA TODAY has written a series of articles about sexual misconduct on LSU’s campus, including those concerning athletes. In addition to Brennan, the newspaper has interviewed two other women who said Guice raped them while Guice was on LSU’s football team. He also lost his place on the Washington Football Team after being charged with multiple counts of domestic violence in the D.C. area.
In their articles, USA TODAY journalists have repeatedly complained that LSU was withholding records that should be legally turned over in response to journalists’ requests — including those that go beyond Brennan’s case.
LSU attorneys argued in court the university couldn’t be more transparent because all people — including students — have a right to privacy guaranteed in Louisiana’s state constitution. They said that because Brennan didn’t want to pursue criminal charges — and Guice was never arrested — the names of the people involved in the complaint should remain secret.
LSU also said it initially refused to release any version of the police report because criminal charges in the alleged incident were still a possibility. The LSU police department had planned to keep the records private for six years, after which time the statute of limitations would expire. They only agreed to give them up, LSU said, because Brennan assured them that she wasn’t interested in pressing charges.
But Sternberg argued that six years is an arbitrary standard, and one that isn’t legally binding. The law requires that records be held back for a “reasonable” amount of time — not a period of several years.
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