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High court won't review release of officer's personnel file

By The Associated Press

NASHVILLE — The U.S. Supreme Court refused this week to revive a lawsuit against two Tennessee officials over the release of the personnel file of an officer who killed a North Carolina family’s dog during a traffic stop.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Cookeville Police Chief Bob Terry and City Manager Jim Shipley had immunity from the lawsuit brought by Officer Eric Hall.

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 20 declined without comment to review Hall’s appeal.

Hall sued Terry and Shipley, claiming they put his family in danger by releasing his personnel file with the names of his parents, wife, oldest child, fingerprints, birth certificate and Social Security number.

A patrol car video of the January 2003 shooting after a North Carolina family was wrongly identified as being involved in a robbery was widely shown on television.

Following the coverage, police received an anonymous tip that the Animal Liberation Front, an extremist animal-rights group, wanted to kill Hall. His family was temporarily relocated to Gatlinburg.

Hall’s August 2003 lawsuit claimed that releasing the file violated his rights to due process and privacy. He also claimed that Tennessee’s Open Records Act violated federal and state constitutional rights to privacy.

The case involves the stop of the James Smoak family of Saluda, N.C., on Interstate 40 in Cookeville by officers with the Cookeville police and Tennessee Highway Patrol.

While the family was ordered by officers to kneel on the highway shoulder, their dog Patton escaped from the vehicle through an open door that the family had repeatedly asked the officers to close.

Hall shot and killed Patton when the mixed-breed bulldog approached him. The video showed the dog was wagging his tail before he was shot.


News media win greater access to Ohio police personnel files

Meanwhile, New Mexico corrections officials refuse to reveal identity of executioners despite protests that public has a right to know. 10.01.01

Connecticut Supreme Court OKs release of personnel records
Justices rule Danbury official didn't break law when he released city employee's file in response to newspaper's FOIA request. 02.29.04

Calif. high court: Police-discipline files aren't public records
Ruling draws sharp dissent from one justice who says court majority 'overvalues the deputy's interest in privacy' and 'undervalues the public's interest in disclosure.' 09.01.06

Southern Ill. Univ. can't withhold staff contracts, judges rule
Siding with weekly newspaper, state appeals court rejects school's argument that employment contracts of president, other officials contain private info that should be shielded. 08.21.07

Calif. high court orders release of police officer info
In one case justices rule Oakland must disclose names, salaries of officers who earned more than $100,000 in 2004; in separate decision court says names, other details from state database are public. 08.28.07

2005-06 Supreme Court case tracker

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