In an effort to understand if it has the grounds to withhold police reports from a public records request, Michigan State is suing ESPN.
Michigan State announced in February that three of its football players were being investigated for sexual assault. The school did not name the players involved, but said they were suspended from the team indefinitely.
To this day, the players have not been identified and details from the investigation have not trickled out. Using the Freedom of Information Act, news organizations, including ESPN, have requested information related to this particular investigation (and others). The school says it cannot disclose requested police reports and other pertinent documents because of a request from the local prosecutor’s office.
According to the Lansing State Journal (which has also requested documents), Michigan State, saying it has been put in an “impossible situation,” has filed suit against ESPN for its FOIA request.
MSU argues in a court filing that it has been put in an “impossible position” because Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon’s office asked the university to withhold the records and ESPN asked for them to be released.
An ESPN Inc. reporter submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with the university Feb. 10 seeking all police reports containing allegations of sexual assault since Dec. 10, 2016, as well as records of arrests made between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9, according to court documents.
Specifically, Michigan State is asking the court if it can point to an existing FOIA exemption relating to active police investigations to withhold police reports requested by ESPN. The prosecution, which has yet to make a decision whether or not to file charges in the case, has requested as such.
A school spokesman told the State Journal that MSU’s decision to file a lawsuit was a request for advice from the court.
MSU filed its lawsuit on Monday in the Court of Claims. The university asked the court to issue a decision on whether the police reports can be withheld through a FOIA exemption relating to open police investigations.
The university has repeatedly denied requests from the State Journal for documents and said it was doing so due to ongoing investigations.
ESPN previously sued Michigan State in 2014 because it redacted the names of student-athletes listed as suspects when responding to a FOIA request. A judge ruled in favor of ESPN in 2015, saying the names could not be redacted. Per the State Journal, ESPN is “prepared to sue the university again.”
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