Utah records panel sides with newspaper, favors release of injured teen's name
Releasing the name of a teenage boy who was hit by a car is not an unwarranted invasion of privacy, the state Records Committee ruled Thursday.
The committee unanimously granted the Sanpete Messenger's appeal of the Utah Highway Patrol's decision to withhold the name of the boy, who was struck by a car on June 5 in Fountain Green.
Committee member Lex Hemphill said the state failed to make its case that releasing the boy's name would be a "clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy."
"I don't know what would trump the clear language of [the Government Records Access and Management Act]," Hemphill said. "I don't think this is the one."
Dwayne Baird, Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman, said part of the reason the name was withheld was because the boy might be charged for walking on a highway at night. Baird said the fact that the boy was in a group home and under Department of Human Services jurisdiction also led the UHP to hold back the name.
Linda Petersen, national Freedom of Information chairwoman for the Society of Professional Journalists, said the public safety department was twisting GRAMA to justify withholding the boy's name.
"It is a very dangerous thing when the law enforcers become the interpreters of the law," Petersen said, "or law enforcers become lawbreakers."
Suzanne Dean, the Sanpete Messenger's publisher, said having the information helps the community relate to the story and sheds light on the operation of group homes.
Christian Probasco, a reporter with the weekly paper, said he was happy the committee upheld the appeal, fending off what he feared would be a bad precedent. But he said he wished the case had set a standard for openness.
Kevin Bolander, assistant Utah attorney general, said the public safety department would review the decision and could appeal to court.