Media, Transparency Advocates Fight to Make Wetterling Files Public

Media, Transparency Advocates Fight to Make Wetterling Files Public Photo: KSTP

June 27, 2017 04:42 PM

Media organizations and advocates for government transparency in Minnesota - including KSTP and other Hubbard Broadcasting-owned stations - asked Tuesday to be allowed to intervene in a court case involving the investigation of Jacob Wetterling's abduction and murder.

Tens of thousands of pages of investigative files, as well as video and audio recordings from the 27-year-old investigation, were scheduled to be made public earlier this month.

Advertisement

However, the release of information was delayed when Jacob's parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, filed a lawsuit arguing information related to their marriage or family should be kept private.

RELATED: Stearns County Holds Off on Releasing Wetterling Files

Under Minnesota law, closed criminal investigations are considered public information with limited exceptions.

Jane Kirtley, interim director of the Silha Center for Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, said the law should not bend to satisfy an individual's desire for privacy.

"The statute is unequivocal," Kirtley said. "While I think no one has any interest in adding to the pain of the Wetterling's family, we have to think about this in the broader sense."

A statement was issued Tuesday by Doug Kelley, the Wetterling's attorney, saying:

"Patty and Jerry Wetterling firmly believe in transparency in government and recognize that law enforcement files should generally be made public once a criminal investigation ends. Our lawsuit seeks to preserve the Wetterling's constitutionally protected privacy interests. A very small part of the law enforcement file contains things which do not belong in a police file and misinformation of a character I've never before seen in my 42 years of practicing criminal law. We've asked the judge to review a very small set of documents (less than three one thousands of one percent) that is intensely personal and protected from disclosure by the state and federal constitutions and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. None of the documents in issue mention Danny Heinrich or shed any light on the performance of law enforcement investigating Jacob's disappearance."

The Silha Center, KSTP, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists, the Minnesota Newspaper Association, the Minnesota Broadcasters Association and others filed a complaint that specifically asked the court to deny the Wetterling's request.

"Stearns County has made it clear they have no intention of fighting the Wetterlings on this matter and so we are, frankly, going in to assert the public's interest here," Kirtley said.

In a statement issued after the lawsuit was filed, the Wetterling family said, "Nothing that we are asking to be protected is germane to the central facts of this crime, neither does this information relate to the public's interest in the transparent operation of government."

A judge is expected to make a decision on the release of the Wetterling files next month. It is not clear when the court will decide if media organizations will be allowed to intervene.

Credits

Joe Augustine

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

Advertisement

Secretary of State: Russians Targeted Minnesota Elections

Legislative Leaders, Gov. Dayton Point Fingers for Mediation 'Impasse'

Longtime Midway Grocery Store Closes, Makes Way for New St. Paul Soccer Stadium

Absentee Voting Gets Underway in Minnesota

Flashback Friday: US Senate Race in 1978 Pitted Johnnie vs. Tommie

Dassel-Cokato Teen Dies from Reaction to Peanut Allergy

Advertisement