WKU basketball records request heading to in camera review

WKU’s head coach Ray Harper calls the team together during a timeout in the Hilltopper’s 88-77 win over UAB in the quarterfinals in the C-USA tournament Thursday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. The win over the top seeded Blazers advances WKU to the semifinals where they will face either LA Tech or ODU. Mike Clark/HERALD

Matt Stahl

Following WKU’s denial of an open records request regarding former WKU basketball players and former head coach Ray Harper, the Kentucky attorney general’s office has called for an in-camera review of the documents in question.

During an in-camera review, the attorney general’s office reviews the records privately to determine if the documents can be made public. In this case, the attorney general’s office would look to determine if the records can be exempted from the Open Records Act.

On Oct. 11, the Herald requested all records or correspondence from WKU Athletics, WKU’s Title IX Office, the Office of Student Conduct or the WKU Police Department that referenced former 

WKU basketball players Marlon Hunter, Chris McNeal or Fredrick Edmond, or former head coach Ray Harper.

The request was made following a lawsuit filing in Alabama that accused Hunter of sexual assault at Jacksonville State University and also alleges that Hunter had been removed from WKU due to a “sexual assault incident.”

On Oct. 16, WKU General Counsel Deborah Wilkins denied the request, claiming all records responsive to the request were exempt from the Kentucky Open Records Act.

“I examined the records and determined the documents constitute student educational records, including records of student discipline,”Wilkins said in her denial. “Which are excluded from public inspection by operation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.”

In accordance with the Open Records Act, the Herald filed an appeal to the attorney general. On Oct. 29, the office of the attorney general responded with two letters, one said to expect a decision on or before Jan. 8, 2020, and another requested a supplement to WKU’s initial denial and an in-camera review of the documents in question.

“Understand that this office cannot compel compliance a request for an in camera review,” the letter said. “However, WKU has the burden of proof, per KRS 61.880(2)(c), and may not be able to prevail without the requested information.”

WKU has been previously asked to submit records of sexual misconduct investigations for an in-camera review and refused to do so, contributing to the legal battle the Herald, WKU and the attorney general are currently involved in.

WKU had previously turned down a request for similar information in 2016, when the three players were kicked out of school and Harper was forced to resign. The Herald did not appeal the denial at that time.

On Wednesday, Wilkins provided the supplement to the denial, specifying the documents that were in WKU’s possession, including 82 pages of student athletic records. The Title IX office and the Office of Student Conduct also have documents in their possession, totaling approximately 350 pages.

Wilkins said those records include correspondence between the student parties and the Office of Judicial Affairs, which pertain to “the complaint, the judicial process and/or the disciplinary process,” transcribed statements and documentary evidence submitted.

“The University’s position is that production of the requested records would violate the personal privacy and federal law exemptions to the Open Records Act,” Wilkins said in the supplementary denial.

Sports Columnist and News Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattstahl97.