Colo. high court rules sheriff can withhold Columbine records
DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court said yesterday that a sheriff can refuse to release videotapes and writings made by the Columbine gunmen before the high school massacre.
However, the sheriff’s refusal is subject to court challenge, the justices said in their ruling in Harris v. Denver Post Corp.
The Jefferson County sheriff’s office seized the material from the homes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shortly after the two killed 12 students and a teacher and committed suicide in April 1999.
The Denver Post filed suit seeking the material after the sheriff’s office refused to make it public.
Both the sheriff’s department and the parents of Harris and Klebold had argued that the material was private property and not subject to open-records laws.
The Supreme Court said the material was a public record. However, the justices said that since it was seized as part of a criminal investigation, state law allows the sheriff’s office to determine whether releasing it is in the public interest.
If the sheriff decides against releasing it, the law allows that decision to be challenged in court, the justices said.
A spokesman for Sheriff Ted Mink did not immediately return a call for comment.
The newspaper claimed victory.
“What The Denver Post was fighting for was exactly what it won, which was the opportunity to have a judge review a sheriff or police officer’s refusal to provide public access to such records,” said Steve Zansberg, an attorney for the newspaper.
The material includes the “basement tapes,” videos on which the teens show off their arsenal and talk about their plan to attack the school. Also included is a journal by Harris’ father, Wayne Harris, according to court documents.
A lower court judge originally ruled the material was not public record, but a state appeals court reversed the ruling.