DOUGLAS — State District Court Judge Thomas Rumpke ruled Friday partially in favor of the Glenrock Independent Publisher Matt Adelman’s lawsuit against the Town of Glenrock to release the majority of the Stedellie Report.
“ . . . the court concludes that the petitioner request for public records should be granted in part, and denied in part,” Rumpke wrote Oct. 29.
Adelman praised the judge’s decision upholding the state’s public records laws and the public’s right to accessing public documents. The newspaper sued the town in June for access to the report compiled by attorney Alaina Stedillie, who was hired by the Town of Glenrock to investigate former Glenrock Police Chief David Theel. The chief was terminated immediately following a town council pre-termination hearing Oct. 4.
Attorney for the Independent, Bruce Moats, said, “There are few positions as important to the community as the chief of police.
“We are gratified that the Court recognized the right and the necessity of public access to information surrounding this controversy, as it relates not only to investigation into the conduct of the police chief, but provides context in which the public may judge the actions of its elected representatives and other public servants. We appreciate the Court’s effort to balance any privacy interests by redacting certain medical information and information regarding minors, while releasing the rest of the Stedellie report.”
In the court arguments, Moats maintained the report is public information about a public figure, in this case the police chief, and the town council and how it conducts business. The town’s attorneys contended the report was not a public document but subject to attorney-client privilege or, if not, should be not released because it contains sensitive and confidential personnel information.
The judge agreed that the report overall was public but that some limited content was confidential employee information which should be redacted.
The town has 30 days to appeal Rumpke’s ruling or to provide the report to the Independent with the redactions cited by the judge.
Glenrock Mayor Bruce Roumell placed Theel on paid administrative leave Feb. 16 and refused to provide the reasons publicly. Later, the town hired Stedillie to investigate Theel, and the investigation was apparently expanded around the time numerous police department employees signed a letter of complaint against Theel and then gave it to the town council.
Essentially, the court determined the Stedillie investigation is not protected by attorney-client privilege and that Stedillie acted only as an independent investigator, not a lawyer.
In his order, Rumpke said, “ . . . nearly all of this portion of the Stedillie Report must be produced since the town has failed to demonstrate that any person involved has maintained a clearly recognized privacy interest in the information contained in the report.
“The lone exception is this portion of the report’s reference to a personnel investigation into a third party. This third party is not a signatory to the no confidence letter and there is nothing in the Stedillie Report indicating the third party has otherwise waived the privacy interest he may have in his own personnel records. Moreover, as with the February investigation, these allegations involve allegations of potentially criminal acts. There is no indication in the record that these allegations have been substantiated. Therefore, this court concludes that the third party officer has a clear privacy interest in not having unsubstantiated allegations disclosed to the public. Therefore, the town may redact this portion of the Stedillie report,” he wrote.
The court also will not allow a section of the report which refers to sensitive mental health information about an alleged victim, citing it would be “unwarranted publicizing of one’s private affairs.”
As to the human resources complaints in a letter of no confidence submitted by 13 members of the Glenrock Police Department, the court said “ . . . it appears that many of the (human resources) complaints submitted by an officer may be included within the allegations contained in the no confidence letter . . . the court is not able to determine exactly which portions of the no confidence letter correspond to allegations involved in the HR complaints.
“. . . there are portions of the report that refer to discipline action taken against Sergeant (Colter) Felton that form the basis of his HR complaints . . . therefore, any recognized privacy interest in the personnel file disciplinary matters has been abandoned by placing these matters squarely in the public domain through the no confidence letter,” the order states.
Copies of the Stedillie Report with redactions to that information will be provided to the Independent’s and the town’s attorneys Nov. 29. The report is subject to a protective order and may not be disclosed prior to that date.