CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey will have to look again at requests from the Charleston Gazette for information about internal investigations focused on members of State Police, the largest law enforcement agency in West Virginia.

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court reversed a 2012 ruling from Judge Bailey that found none of the information the Gazette was seeking, through Freedom of Information Act requests, was subject to disclosure partly because of both the invasion of privacy exemption and the law enforcement exemption for ongoing investigations.

“The dissemination of public information by the press is an important cornerstone of a vivacious democracy,” Justice Margaret Workman wrote in the 54-page long opinion on the case of the Charleston Gazette vs. Col. Jay Smithers, State Police Superintendent, which was first filed in 2010.

“The press has a vital role in disseminating to the public the type of information at issue in this case,” the opinion said.

When allegations of abuse arise in other agencies, State Police investigates.  When allegations arise within State Police, State Police investigates.  Critics have long argued against such a conflict.

When a FOIA request is made about an internal investigation focused on the actions of a State Police trooper working in that capacity, “such information is subject to release to the public only after completion of the investigation or inquiry and a determination is made as to whether disciplinary action is authorized by the Superintendent,” the Court ruled.

Those with the Gazette will now have to specifically request the documents they’re seeking and Judge Bailey will review those requests, outside of the public’s view, to determine what will be released using, as a guideline, the Supreme Court’s decision.

As of Tuesday evening, State Police had not commented publicly on the decision.

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  • Jim

    Sadly what mist people in this chain is assume cops are the bad guys. Agencies are mandated to investigate complaints and most are not sustained but fabricated to mitigate a defendants actions in court. Attorneys can request a hearing regarding officers complaints and departments are required to state if complaint was founded are unfounded. So carry on and assume the cops are the bad guys

  • Editerguy

    It's going to be harder to recruit and retain police officers if they are no longer allowed to do anything they want to anybody.

    • Brian

      Haaa that does appear to be what attracts many of them to the job.

  • Lou

    I never understood why these records were ever deemed private. The public has a right to know which officers who are 1. paid by the taxpayers and 2. sworn to protect and serve are abusive and corrupt. They knew they could beat up handcuffed people then hide behind a veil of secrecy.

    Well, no more!! We will see how many cockroaches scatter when the light is shined on them.

  • Hillbilly

    Bald Headed Pig must be involved in a cover up by the WVSP

    • bald headed pig

      Dont talk back to me boy... Dont make me grab the back of her your head and shove you face 1st into a fence.

      • Harpers Ferry

        I bet you don't!

  • bald headed pig

    This stinks!

  • Hillbilly

    A lot of of the Troopers break the speed limits ,no flashing lights and they think it is their right to break the law

    • J the C

      Hillbilly, that's nothing! They are committing real crimes under the guise that theycan do whatever they please.

  • WV Psych Doctor

    Score one for Democracy against the People who trample on our Constitution.. Laws are for ALL West Virginians and hopefully the State Troopers will stop acting like they are above the law... Hooray for the Gazette.. The corruption in Mingo County is nothing compared to the corruption that will be exposed in the State Police. It would be beneficial to have access to the Psychological reports of the troopers too. The people have a right to know what is carrying a gun and badge...

    How do you say I.N.D.I.C.T.M.E.N.T.

    • J the C

      there are stories out there that would curdle your blood! Certain elements in law enforcement are out of control.

  • Brian

    Bravo. Score one for the people and transparency.

  • GWB

    Who will watch the watchmen?

    • Dennis

      And who will watch the watchmen of the watchmen?