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MSU must release names of student-athletes who might be criminal suspects

MSU football players approach the field
Matt Radick
Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan Court of Appeals says Michigan State University must release the names of student-athletes who may be suspects in criminal cases.

MSU redacted the names of witnesses, victims, and suspects from campus incident reports requested by the sports network ESPN as part of its investigation into which colleges are most lenient with student-athletes who are suspected of crimes. ESPN did not object to striking the names of witnesses and victims, but said the names of the suspects were necessary to its investigation.

MSU appealed a lower court decision that it must turn over the names. The state Court of Appeals also says the request was clearly in line with the letter and the intent of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, and does not run afoul of the law’s privacy exceptions.

From the unanimous opinion by a three-judge Court of Appeals panel:

“The disclosure of the names of the student-athletes who were identified as suspects in the reports serves the public understanding of the operation of the University’s police department. ESPN seeks the information to learn whether policing standards are consistent and uniform at a public institution of higher learning. The disclosure of the names is necessary to this purpose.”

ESPN’s series ran in June and said the data suggests that athletes and non-athletes are not treated differently in Ingham County, where MSU is located. But the story also said its information is incomplete without the names of suspects.

MSU can appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. MSU spokesman Kent Cassella said university attorneys are reviewing the decision.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.