Local News

Judge Rules Durham Officers' Names Can Be Withheld

Posted November 14, 2007 4:02 p.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2007 6:54 p.m. EST

— A judge on Wednesday ruled that the Durham Police Department doesn't have to release the names of officers put on administrative leave last week as part of a department investigation.

Several Durham officers were placed on leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation. WRAL learned the probe centers on allegations of sexual misconduct involving officers and prostitutes.

Police Chief Jose Lopez said the allegations surfaced shortly after he took over the department in September. Fewer than 10 officers, ranging from rookies to veterans, were involved, he said, declining to identify the officers or reveal other details about the case.

Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL, sued the city of Durham, the police department and Lopez, maintaining that the names of the officers on leave should be provided to the media under the North Carolina Public Records Act.

"The public has a right to know who is being paid but not being allowed to work," said Bill Moss, an attorney representing Capitol.

Moss also said withholding the names was inconsistent with the police department's past practices concerning officers involved in shootings or official actions.

Others agreed that police department should release the names.

"I think police department has had well-documented problems over the last year and a half. They need to be transparent in what they're doing," Durham defense attorney Mark Edwards said.

Assistant City Attorney Kim Grantham argued that the public has a right to know only if a city employee has been promoted, transferred, demoted, suspended or fired and not whether an employee has been put on administrative leave. Under state law, public agencies must divulge to the public any change in status for employees when asked.

"It would be very prejudicial to employees to release their names while on administrative leave during an investigation before determination of any wrongdoing," Grantham said.

She also said releasing any names could jeopardize the police department's internal investigation. It was unclear how long the investigation would take to complete.

Superior Court Judge Carl Fox agreed with the city that being placed on administrative leave doesn't constitute a change in employment status.

Capitol hasn't decided whether to appeal the ruling.