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Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost Backs News Media In Seeking Oregon District Shooter School Records

Dayton Strong memorial in front of Ned Peppers bar in the Oregon District.
April Laissle
The "Dayton Strong" temporary memorial in front of Ned Peppers bar in the Oregon District.

State Attorney General Dave Yost is calling for the release of the Oregon District mass shooter’s Bellbrook-Sugarcreek student records. 

Yost filed a so-called “friend-of-the-court” brief in the Ohio Supreme Court asking it to overturn an earlier lower-court decision to keep the records private.

Yost’s brief supports a coalition of news outlets that includes Cox Media Group, Scripps, WDTN, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN and ABC News that is suing to make the records public. 

After the August 4 shooting in Dayton, the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek school district declined to release the records for perpetrator Connor Betts, who graduated from Bellbrook High School in 2013.

Betts was killed by police after the attack. District officials say they’re obligated by law to keep his records private.

State Attorney General Dave Yost says federal and state privacy laws don’t apply in this case, calling the statute "well-settled" on the issue of privacy rights, which he says ends when an individual's life ends.

“We're backing up the news media's request here because of the substantial public interest, both in the facts of this case and for the proposition that once somebody has passed from this life, they no longer have an interest in privacy" says Yost. "We shouldn't protect these records. The individual's interest does not outweigh the public's interest.”

Yost says the school records would help law enforcement, educators and policymakers understand what may have led Betts to commit the Dayton attack and help prevent similar deadly mass shootings in the future.

"One of the biggest things that we're debating right now, particularly with troubled young people, is what is the interaction between the authorities and the legal system and what appears to be a troubled youth, what are the warning signs and when is society justified in acting and intervening? That's a debate we need to continue to have," Yost says. "These records could be very helpful in moving the debate forward."

Tabitha Justice, an attorney for the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District did not respond to WYSO's requests for comment.

She has previously said the school district is working to follow privacy laws meant to protect the privacy of students and families.

“News organizations have contended that the federal and state protections afforded in regards to student records expire upon the death of the student, which would mean that the families and estates of all students who pass away, regardless of the manner of death, would be entirely without recourse with respect to those records,” said Justice. “And the fact of the matter is that this interpretation is not consistent with the plain language or intent of those laws. Those laws are in place to protect the privacy of students and families and that is what the district intends to do.”

It could takes months before the Ohio Supreme Court announces whether it would schedule oral arguments in the shooter's school-records case.