published Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Nashville sued for records in Vanderbilt rape case

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A coalition of news media organizations, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Tennessean and The Associated Press, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Nashville to force the release of records in a case involving former Vanderbilt football players charged with rape.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks video surveillance and photographs that Vanderbilt University turned over to police. The media organizations are not seeking additional video or photographs believed to have been taken by defendants during the alleged attack.

The suit says records obtained by Nashville police that were created by parties outside government should be public under state law.

Four former football players are accused of raping an unconscious student in a dorm on June 23 and have pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual battery charges. The players were dismissed from the school in July.

"The incident and the cases have caused intense scrutiny by the Vanderbilt and regional community and have attracted national public attention," the suit says. The records the plaintiffs are asking for are from third parties and not "internal state documents" made by government agents or officers "investigating or prosecuting the case," the lawsuit said.

Saul Solomon, the legal director for the city of Nashville, said on Wednesday afternoon that he had yet to see the lawsuit but defended the city's refusal to turn over the records.

"We believe we have complied with the Public Records Act," Solomon told The Tennessean.

Records in the case, including video and photo evidence, have been kept closed by an agreement signed by prosecutors and defense attorneys. The Tennessean and other media organizations have made several requests for records, including the materials that Vanderbilt turned over to police. Nashville officials, however, have repeatedly refused to turn over the materials.

The lawsuit, filed in the Chancery Court of Davidson County, asks a judge to order the officials to release the records and pay the legal fees of the media organizations.

Other media organizations that joined in the lawsuit include: Chattanooga Times Free Press, Knoxville News Sentinel, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, WBIR-TV in Knoxville, and Nashville stations WTVF-TV Channel 5, WSMV-TV Channel 4 and WZTV-TV Fox 17. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters also made up the coalition filing the lawsuit.

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