Crime victims could get more access to police reports in Louisiana under approved bill

Exceptions included in proposed law could limit access to documents

By: - June 6, 2022 10:13 am
Derrius Guice

Louisiana lawmakers have made it easier for victims of sexual assault to access police reports related to their own cases. The incoming law was inspired by a lawsuit brought by former LSU student Samantha Brennan, who had difficulty getting access to a police report she made about former LSU football star Derrius Guice back in 2016. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Louisiana Legislature has approved a bill meant to guarantee crime victims’ access to copies of police reports related to their own cases, though some advocates for crime survivors said the legislation doesn’t go far enough to ensure that right.

House Bill 615, sponsored by Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, will require law enforcement to give crime victims access to records related to their complaints unless the law enforcement agency provides a written explanation as to why the information cannot be released to them. 

Under Freeman’s bill, those records can only be withheld if it is expected to negatively affect the prosecution or a related criminal investigation, which must be detailed in the aforementioned written explanation provided to the victim.

Morgan Lamandre, Louisiana’s leading state lobbyist for victims of sexual assault, said Freeman’s legislation is an improvement over the current law, but will ultimately only make it easier for victims to get police reports through a lawsuit. It won’t necessarily make it easier for crime victims who aren’t willing or able to hire an attorney to get access to  information.

“I’m not representing victims who want to necessarily go through a trial to talk about their rape just to get a public record,” said Lamandre, legal director of Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR), which provides services to sexual assault victims in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Alexandria. 

At least one public records advocate was more optimistic about the legislation.

“It’s not everything that I want or that the victims advocates want, but it is a step in the right direction,” said Scott Sternberg, an attorney who has represented crime victims seeking police reports related to their cases. “It allows the victim to see the file, or at least get a piece of paper that tells them what’s going on.” 

Lamandre and Freeman had initially drafted legislation that would have guaranteed victims of crimes access to the police reports, including statements made by the crime victims themselves, within 45 days. 

The powerful Louisiana District Attorneys Association pushed back hard on setting a firm deadline for release of such records, saying it would impact their ability to successfully prosecute crimes of violence, especially homicide cases. In response, an explicit timeline for police records release to victims was dropped from the proposal.

The impetus for Freeman’s bill is that several clients represented by Lamandre, Sternberg and other attorneys have run into roadblocks when trying to get police records. Alleged victims of sexual assault have been  denied access to that information even after the same documents have been turned over to criminal defense attorneys representing the accused or when the case is no longer being pursued. 

“Perpetrators have access to these police reports, but somehow the victims cannot have access to them. That is absurd,” Lamandre said. 

Some victims are told they can’t see copies of the police report because the crime might still be prosecuted, even though an investigation hasn’t progressed in years and no criminal charges have been filed, Lamandre said. Most criminal reports of sexual assault do not result in prosecution, and victims sometimes need access to a police report in order to get support or relief from their university or employer after the attack, she said.

Police reports and case documents can also help victims determine why their cases have not resulted in criminal charges. 

“The victims of crimes that are not prosecuted don’t not have an avenue to find out why their cases are not being prosecuted,” without access to these reports, Sternberg said at a legislative hearing last month.

Sternberg in 2021 helped former LSU student Samantha Brennan successfully sue to get access to a full, unredacted police report concerning a complaint she had made to LSU law enforcement about the school’s football star Derrius Guice in 2016. Brennan accused Guice of taking a partially nude photo of her and sharing it with several other people without her permission.

LSU police initially refused to give Brennan a full police report of the incident, even after East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore confirmed that his office wasn’t pursuing charges against Guice for the incident.

Brennan was asking for the information at a time when LSU was under scrutiny about how they handled allegations of sexual misconduct against football players. An USA TODAY investigation – in which Brennan was later featured – revealed that sexual violence allegations made against football players, including Guice, had been ignored or not handled properly by the university. 

It took LSU five months after Brennan initially filed her lawsuit to hand over the full police report to her. The university initially only agreed to share a redacted version of the document, in which Guice’s name and details about the complaint she had made about him were blacked out. An East Baton Rouge court eventually compelled the school to release more information to Brennan, though LSU initially appealed that decision.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.