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Ohio Supreme Court Grants Prisoner’s Mother Names of Fellow Prisoners Who Attacked Him

by Douglas Ankney

On April 12, 2023, the Supreme Court of Ohio compelled the Mansfield Correctional Center (MCC) to provide to Amirah Sultaana the names and identification numbers of the prisoners who assaulted her son while he was incarcerated there.

On October 7, 2021, Sultaana requested “the names of the inmates and any other individuals or personnel” who were “involved in the assaults on her son” on June 9 and September 15, 2021. But in incident reports returned on October 22, 2021, the names and numbers of her son’s assailants were redacted.

So on October 25, 2021, Sultaana informed David Robinson, the warden’s administrative assistant, that his response was incomplete and also asked for records regarding another assault on her son that occurred on October 14, 2021. On November 10, 2021, Robinson sent more redacted records regarding the June assault but nothing else, insisting in reply to Sultaana’s subsequent requests that all responsive records had been provided.

In June 2022, Sultaana filed pro se in the state Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus compelling the prison to produce the names and numbers of the prisoners involved in all three assaults, along with incident and conduct reports regarding the last two.

The Court observed that “R.C. 149.43(B)(2) requires a public official to make public records available on request by any person, within a reasonable time.” If a request “is denied in whole or in part, the public office is required to provide the requester with an explanation for the denial, including legal authority,” the Court added, citing R.C. 149.43(B)(3).

Furthermore, the Court said it would “construe the Public Records Act liberally in favor of broad access and resolve any doubts in favor of [records] disclosure,” citing State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Hamilton Cty., 662 N.E.2d 334 (Ohio 1996). Exemptions to disclosure, the Court added, “are strictly construed against the public-records custodian,” who “has the burden to establish the applicability of an exception,” as laid out in State ex rel. Miller v. Ohio State Hwy. Patrol, 995 N.E.2d 1175 (Ohio 2013).

In the instant case, the prison first argued that the identifying information was exempt from disclosure under R.C. 149(A)(1)(h) as “confidential law-enforcement investigatory records” (CLEIR). The Court replied that it determined in State ex rel. Beacon Journal Publishing Co. v. Maurer, 741 N.E.2d (Ohio 201), “that an incident report initiating an investigation constituted a public record rather than an exempt CLEIR and that the records custodian had to release an unredacted version,” so therefore “the names and inmate numbers that Sultaana seeks are not exempt as CLEIR under R.C. 149.43(A)(1)(h).”

The prison also argued that the prisoners’ identifying information was exempt from disclosure under R.C. 5121. However, the Court said that shielded only prisoners’ medical records and statements from informants; records that prisons are required to keep under R.C 5121(A) “showing the name, residence, sex, age, nativity, occupation, condition, and date of entrance or commitment of every inmate” are not exempt from disclosure, per State ex rel. Mobley v. Ohio Dept. of Rehab. and Corr., 201 N.E.3d 853 (Ohio 2022).

That Court said it was unclear from the record whether all the requested records exist. But if they do exist, “they are public records and Sultaana is entitled to them.” Accordingly, the Court granted a writ of mandamus compelling the prison to produce unredacted versions of the reports it had previously provided along with those it hadn’t, along with any disciplinary decisions arising from any of the three assaults—or else certify that no such records exist. See: State ex rel. Sultaana v. Mansfield Correctional Institution, 2023-Ohio-1177.  

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Related legal case

State ex rel. Sultaana v. Mansfield Correctional Institution