Newspaper Sues Ohio State Fire Marshal To Release LODD Fire Records

The Cincinnati Enquirer is suing the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office in an effort to obtain records related to a fire that claimed the life of Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman.

Wolterman died on December 28, 2015 at a house fire. The fire has since been ruled arson and the criminal nature of the fire has been cited as the reason why the records have not been made public.

The Enquirer filed the suit on February 2, 2016, alleging that investigators made a rush to judgment about the fire.

  • “An investigator who commences the investigation with his mind already made up is derelict in his duty,”
  • “The investigators’ apparent prejudices make the need for public access to the SFM Report, and resulting scrutiny, all the more pressing.”

The suit was filed under the Ohio Public Records Act. The act provides an exception that protects “Confidential law enforcement investigatory records”, defined as:

Ohio Revised Code 149.43

(2) “Confidential law enforcement investigatory record” means any record that pertains to a law enforcement matter of a criminal, quasi-criminal, civil, or administrative nature, but only to the extent that the release of the record would create a high probability of disclosure of any of the following:

(a) The identity of a suspect who has not been charged with the offense to which the record pertains, or of an information source or witness to whom confidentiality has been reasonably promised;

(b) Information provided by an information source or witness to whom confidentiality has been reasonably promised, which information would reasonably tend to disclose the source’s or witness’s identity;

(c) Specific confidential investigatory techniques or procedures or specific investigatory work product;

(d) Information that would endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel, a crime victim, a witness, or a confidential information source.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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