The Lane County District Attorney’s Office has denied a Register-Guard appeal requesting that the University of Oregon disclose records related to the sexual assault allegations earlier this year against three UO basketball players.
The records are exempt from disclosure under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — FERPA — because they relate to named UO students, District Attorney Alex Gardner and Chief Deputy District Attorney Patricia Perlow said in their opinion.
FERPA allows the UO to withhold any record “that identifies the individual students with any certainty,” the opinion stated. Such records are “education records” covered by the federal law, the opinion said.
In a joint appeal to Gardner, The Register-Guard and The Oregonian had asked for emails, text messages or electronic or print records written or received by UO President Michael Gottfredson, UO athletic director Rob Mullens and UO basketball coach Dana Altman regarding the alleged sexual assaults by UO basketball players Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin.
While it declined to disclose those records, the UO publicly stated that it had booted the three players off the basketball team and had banned them from the university for at least four years after finding them responsible for sexual misconduct.
The players never were formally charged with a crime, after Gardner declined to pursue the case, citing lack of evidence.
The newspapers argued that the public is entitled to learn what the UO officials knew about the alleged assaults and when they knew it.
In agreeing with the university, the District Attorney’s Office cited a 2011 state Department of Justice ruling that UO records related to allegations of improper benefits received by UO men’s basketball players, and any UO investigations into those allegations, were exempt from disclosure under FERPA because the records would have identified specific students.
The next legal step for the newspaper will be a lawsuit in Lane County Circuit Court, said Wendy Baker, the newspaper’s general counsel.
“The rejection of our appeal leaves us with no option but to file a lawsuit against the university. Oregon Public Records law exists to preclude this kind of secrecy among our public servants,” she said.
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