Ohio court official finds in favor of The Columbus Dispatch over Powell police in Zach Smith records case

Powell police will provide The Dispatch with records of 2015 domestic-violence complaints against former Ohio State assistant football coach Zach Smith after a special master for the Ohio Court of Claims found Tuesday that the records were improperly withheld.

Police Chief Gary Vest said the department doesn’t plan to appeal the findings in the 40-page report.

“We’ll follow the advice of the court and start working through the process,” Vest said, adding that he had yet to meet with the city’s legal counsel.

Special master Jeffrey W. Clark found that the police department failed to comply with Ohio public records law in withholding numerous documents, images and audio and video recordings from The Dispatch.

“We’re pleased to see the court rule in favor of openness by upholding the public records laws,” said Dispatch Editor Alan D. Miller. “And we are eager to see Powell officials turn over the records they should have made public months ago.”

Clark agreed with The Dispatch that while the law allows specific information that identifies uncharged suspects to be redacted, entire records cannot be withheld under that exception.

“Powell PD did not undertake to redact only those materials explicitly excepted from disclosure, but instead withheld all of the records, many of which could not conceivably be construed to be excepted from disclosure,” Clark wrote.

Vest said it will “take some time” to redact the necessary information before releasing the records.

The Dispatch filed a complaint with the court in August after the police department refused to release any records other than parts of two incident reports related to domestic-violence allegations against Smith, then OSU’s receivers coach, by his now ex-wife, Courtney Smith.

The complaints, filed on Oct. 25 and Nov. 9, 2015, received heightened attention when Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer fired Smith on July 23. The termination came after Courtney Smith filed for a protection order against Zach Smith and the previous allegations of domestic violence came to light.

The university’s board of trustees suspended Meyer without pay for the first three games of the season for his handling of the abuse allegations. Athletic Director Gene Smith was also suspended without pay from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16. (Read more…)