A college newspaper sued Purdue University on Tuesday over its refusal to release surveillance video that editors said shows a staff photographer being roughed up by police when he entered the building where a student had been fatally shot and stabbed.
The Purdue Exponent and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana say the university erroneously labeled the video recordings as evidence of the crime scene and failed to release those recordings as required by Indiana's public records access laws.
The complaint was filed in Tippecanoe Superior Court.
ACLU attorney Kelly Eskew said Purdue's refusal to release the video "stands in the way" of free press rights.
"I think the public has a right to view the video and make its own conclusions about what transpired," she said.
The incident occurred Jan. 21, after Cody Cousins, 23, entered a basement classroom filled with electrical engineering students and allegedly stabbed and shot 21-year-old Andrew Boldt. Cousins is charged with murder, and his public defender, Lafayette attorney Kirk Freeman, has filed notice that he intends to pursue an insanity defense.
According to the complaint, the photographer entered the building from a second-floor skywalk that was not sealed off by police. He quickly encountered police officers and identified himself as an Exponent photographer, then raised both hands, each containing a camera, and got down on his knees. The complaint contends he was pushed to the ground, then pulled to his feet, shoved against a wall and detained for several hours. His cameras, which were damaged in the process, were confiscated but eventually returned.
Eskew said the prosecutor advised police not to review the contents of the cameras and there was no evidence they had been tampered with.
The complaint said police allowed the photographer and other Exponent staff to view the video but have refused to release it.
Purdue denied the Exponent's request for the video in February, saying that releasing it could affect the murder investigation. The newspaper sought an advisory opinion from Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt, who sided with Purdue but scolded the university for taking such a wide view of what constitutes investigatory records.
"An agency cannot claim an investigatory record and not truly be part of the investigation," Britt wrote. "While the university is correct it is a broad category and relatively straightforward, it is not a catch-all for any and all material which could possibly have a remote association with an investigation."
Eskew said the Exponent and the ACLU disagree with Britt's opinion and are seeking legal review.
"In this case, Purdue has refused to release the video surveillance on the grounds that it has some nexus to the events in the basement of the building," Eskew said. "We disagree. The video we're requesting only pertains to the incident involving the Exponent's photojournalist."
Purdue said in a statement Tuesday that it has followed the requirements of the public records law.