The city of Salem lost a case in the Oregon Court of Appeals last week that could have broader implications on the disclosure of arrest records.
The appellate court last Thursday overturned a Marion County Circuit Circuit ruling that supported the city when it withheld from the public the arrest report of a man charged with sexually abusing a minor.
The Woodburn Independent newspaper and its parent organization, Pamplin Media Group, sought the Salem police records in 2015 after discovering the man had been arrested.
Salem’s attorneys had contended that Oregon’s public records law required the city keep confidential records that involved child abuse. The newspaper and its attorneys argued that any information about the juvenile victim could be redacted, but information about the abuser should be released.
In a 16-page opinion, the Court of Appeals said records of an adult arrested and charged should be made public even in juvenile abuse cases. The identity of the victims could remain confidential, the court said.
The court said Salem officials “proved no facts at all about the reports. Instead, the city merely asserted that the arrested information was exempt from disclosure.”
The ruling also said Salem city officials asserted that all information was included specifically in an “incident report” and there was no separate arrest report to release. The appeals court ruling said there was “no support” for such a claim.
Jack Orchard, a Portland attorney who represented the Woodburn newspaper, said police records involving juveniles remains a legal gray area but the stakes were clear.
“If the case had gone the other way, then police departments would be in a position where they could restrict the flow of information every time there was a case involving a juvenile,” he said.
“Our decision said, based on the record before the trial and appellate courts, the city’s position had no legal basis,” Orchard added. “But the basic adult arrest information, irrespective of juvenile involvement, is subject to typical arrest record disclosure.”
The juvenile exemption isn’t often used, Orchard said. He noted that police agencies staging a successful sting of a child sex trafficking ring typically release details in a press release.
“I pointed this out and said I don’t understand the difference. On one hand you say this is absolutely off limits and no information will be provided, and on the other hand you provide this information,” he said.
The city’s legal department declined comment Monday. It could appeal the ruling to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The case dates to 2015 when a reporter and an editor at the Woodburn Independent discovered Klain Pippert, a man they had reported on before, was listed in the inmate log of the Marion County Jail. Reporter Tyler Francke sought the records of Pippert’s arrest.
“We wanted the arrest record for this case in particular because we had so little to go on,” he told Salem Reporter in an email. “We had nothing but the name, the fact that he was in custody and his (very serious) charges.”
“We just wanted to know the details of his arrest and investigation,” Francke said, who is no longer with the Woodburn newspaper.
A years-long legal battle over the record ensued. The Marion County District Attorney’s Office sided with the city. In a subsequent ruling, Marion County Circuit Judge Tracy Prall concluded that the report of an arrest of an adult couldn’t be made public if the case involved a juvenile.
The appellate court sent the matter back to the Marion County Circuit Court for additional action.
Pippert eventually pleaded guilty to four charges and served a little more than a year in prison, court records show. He was released on parole June 2016.
Have a story tip? Reach out to reporter Troy Brynelson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-357-6190 or @TroyWB.