LSU has been ordered to make public unredacted police records involving a former student's allegation of video voyeurism against former star running back Derrius Guice, and the university has also been ordered to pay $100 a day for the three-month period that LSU withheld those records after receiving requests for them.
In a ruling signed Dec. 29, Baton Rouge District Judge Janice Clark sided with former LSU student Samantha Brennan and USA Today in a public-records lawsuit that pitted their requests for public information against LSU's claims that they needed to protect the privacy of their students. Brennan, who accused Guice of taking and sharing a partially nude photo of her without her permission in 2016, requested a copy of the police report this year that she had filed at the time.
But LSU refused to turn over the records for months to Brennan or to USA Today, and once the university did release them, Guice's name was redacted.
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Clark ruled that LSU was to turn over the records, free from redactions, within seven days of her judgment. She awarded Brennan and USA Today $10,000 in attorney's fees, and ruled that LSU was "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious in its refusal and delay and the redacted manner in which the documents were produced."
That led Clark to tack on civil penalties against LSU of $100 per day between Aug. 20, 2020 — which is when Brennan first requested her police records from LSU — and Nov. 23, 2020, when the suit went to trial. The 19th Judicial District court record for the case, however, indicates that LSU has already filed an appeal.
"We are thrilled that Judge Clark ruled in favor of the reporters and Samantha in this matter," said attorney Scott Sternberg, who represented USA Today and Brennan in the lawsuit. Sternberg often represents The Advocate | Times-Picayune in litigation as well.
"By ordering the records produced, in addition to attorneys fees, costs and penalties she has set right a wrong," Sternberg said. "We look forward to continuing to fight the good fight as LSU has already appealed."
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LSU's general counsel and vice president of legal affairs, however, said that the ruling would have negative impacts on future police investigations.
"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," said Winston DeCuir, Jr. "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."
Police departments across the state often release unredacted police reports, even in cases like Brennan's that do not lead to further investigation and prosecution. Clark also specified in her ruling that the victim's name — Brennan — should continue to be withheld. Brennan also cheered the ruling on Tuesday, posting on Twitter, "FINALLY! The verdict we have been waiting for."
LSU released Brennan's police reports after Brennan and USA Today filed their lawsuit but before the issue went before Clark for a hearing. The university also redacted Guice's name in every instance that it appeared. Brennan testified in court on Nov. 23 that Guice's name was underneath the redactions, while LSU's attorneys objected to her revelation of his name. Brennan had already publicly told her story multiple times by then, first to USA Today for an investigation they published Nov. 16 into LSU's handling of sexual assaults.
Alexandra Reyes thought she had an airtight case of sexual misconduct for LSU to investigate.
Guice, who played for the Washington Football Team in the NFL, was arrested in August on domestic violence charges. His attorney has denied he did anything wrong, but multiple women have told USA Today that Guice raped them at LSU.
Sternberg said that their need to file a lawsuit for LSU to produce any of Brennan's records indicated that they were, at least, entitled to attorney's fees and court costs. But Sternberg also made a broader argument that LSU should not have withheld the records to begin with, and that LSU should not have redacted Guice's name once the university finally did release the records.
LSU's legal team countered that the university does not generally release unredacted police reports when they involve incidents that do not lead to arrests or further investigation, citing privacy interests for students. Brennan told police back in 2016 that she was not interested at the time in pursuing a criminal case against Guice.
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LSU also leaned on an internal policy — which Sternberg pointed out was not enshrined in state law — that the school does not release police reports until the statute of limitations for a crime expires. In Brennan's case, the video voyeurism charges that Guice could theoretically have faced has a six year statute of limitations.
The state law that governs when such reports can be made public says that records can be released once no criminal action is “reasonably anticipated." Other police departments often release them before the statute of limitations has expired.
Clark heard arguments from both sides on Nov. 23 in open court, and asked each side to submit a brief afterward that she said she would look over before issuing a ruling. Her ruling against LSU is likely to be one of her last from the bench, as Clark has hit the mandatory retirement age for judges in Louisiana. Her final term ended Dec. 31, 2020.
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