COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Six months after a 24-year-old man who’d reportedly exhibited disturbing behavior as a teenager gunned down nine people in Dayton, the Ohio Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether a student’s right to privacy ends with death.
Media groups including The Associated Press are seeking the release of student records for gunman Connor Betts, who was killed by police. They say those records could shed light on whether authorities properly handled early warning signs that Betts exhibited.
The school district is fighting the release of Betts’ records, arguing that both state and federal law protecting student privacy bar the release of confidential information without consent.
The case is currently before the Supreme Court, which could decide to set oral arguments or simply rule on the case, though no final decision is expected for several weeks.
“There is nothing in the case law interpreting those two statutes that would advise an Ohio school administrator that either protection terminates upon the death of the student,” attorneys for Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools argued in a Jan. 14 filing.
Likewise, media groups seeking the records’ release say that nothing in the laws prevent the information’s release.
“There is no basis on which to read into that silence a broad, new exception to the Public Records Act,” attorneys for the media groups said in a Dec. 16 court filing.
Betts was killed by police half a minute after he opened fire Aug. 4 in Dayton’s crowded Oregon District entertainment area. But armed with an AR-15 style gun with an extended ammunition magazine, Betts still killed nine, including his sister, and injured dozens more.
Afterward, high school classmates said Betts was suspended years ago for compiling a “hit list” of fellow students he wanted to harm. Two of the classmates said that incident followed an earlier suspension after Betts came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault.
Police investigators said Betts had a “history of obsession with violent ideations with mass shootings and expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting.” The FBI said it uncovered evidence Betts “looked into violent ideologies.”
But authorities have also yet to identify a motive, or been able to say definitely whether Betts intended to kill his sister, Megan, or if her death was inadvertent.
The Supreme Court took the case after an appeals court ruled in favor of Bellbrook-Sugarcreek schools and its denial of access to Betts’ high school files.
The appellate court ruled the media organizations hadn’t established a clear legal right to the records. Those organizations also include the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Dayton Daily News, CNN, The New York Times, and WHIO-TV.
Ohio’s attorney general has sided with the media groups, saying federal privacy protections don’t apply after a student’s death.