FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. Bernard Baker
The staff of
the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your e-mail
of February 10, 2003.
Dear Mr. Baker:
You have asked whether
you may access a copy of a suicide report from the Danville
Police Department under the Virginia Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA). You indicate that when you requested the report,
including the name of the person who committed suicide, the
City of Danville ("the City") withheld the report in its entirety.
In its written response, the City stated that the police could
withhold the identity of any "victim, witness or cover up
officer" pursuant to § 2.2-3706 of the Code of Virginia. You
ask whether this section would allow the police to withhold
the suicide report, and whether the City's response to your
request was appropriate under FOIA.
Subsection A of
§ 2.2-3704 states that [e]xcept as otherwise specifically
provided by law, all public records shall be open to inspection
and copying. Section 2.2-3706, cited by the City in response
to your request, specifically addresses access to criminal
records and other records held by law-enforcement agencies.
Subsection G of
§ 2.2-3706 states that [r]ecords kept by law-enforcement
agencies as required by § 15.2-1722 shall be subject to the
provisions of [FOIA]. Of these records, subdivision G
1 of § 2.2-3706 exempts [t]hose portions of noncriminal
incident or other investigative reports or materials containing
information of a personal, medical or financial nature provided
to a law-enforcement agency where the release of such information
would jeopardize the safety or privacy of any person.
Subsection A of § 15.2-1722 requires the sheriff or chief
of police of a locality to insure, in addition to other
records required by law, the maintenance of adequate personnel,
arrest, investigative, reportable incidents, and noncriminal
incidents records necessary for the efficient operation of
a law-enforcement agency. Subsection B of § 15.2-1722
defines "noncriminal incidents records" to include compilations
of noncriminal occurrences of general interest to law-enforcement
agencies, such as missing persons, lost and found property,
suicides and accidental deaths. (Emphasis added).
Tying these various
provisions together, it is clear that a suicide report would
be subject to inspection and copying under FOIA as a noncriminal
incident report required to be maintained pursuant to § 15.2-1722.
Certain portions of that report, such as the name of the person
who committed suicide, may be withheld pursuant to subdivision
G 1 of § 2.2-3706. However, the exemption only applies to
those portions of the report of a personal, medical, or financial
nature, and does not allow a law-enforcement agency to withhold
the entire report just because it may contain some of this
information. Subdivision B 3 of § 2.2-3704 states that a public
body may delete or excise only that portion of the record
to which an exemption applies and shall release the remainder
of the record. Therefore, the appropriate response under
FOIA would be to release the report, but redact any personal,
medical, or financial information.
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Maria J.K. Everett