Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly said police were wrong to release their investigation records on Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse of his sisters and at least one other girl – but legal and journalism experts say she’s wrong.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar – along with two of their daughters, who identified themselves as victims of their brother’s molestation – suggested the police chief had acted inappropriately by releasing the records, and Kelly made the same claim on her program.
“Everybody knows that juvenile records are sealed,” Kelly said. "I don’t see the ambiguity, and I don’t see how this police chief avoids answering for what she did."
She said the police chief and city attorney had ignored laws protecting the identities of sexual assault victims and preventing the release of juvenile records -- but the victims were not identified by name until they sat for an interview Wednesday with Kelly.
Under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, police are obligated to release incident reports, but they must redact the names of juveniles and sex assault victims involved in the reports – which law enforcement agencies did in each case.
The Duggars suggested Springdale Police Chief Kathy O’Kelley may have been bribed or carried out a personal agenda by releasing the 2006 police report – but the FOIA request was approved by City Attorney Ernest Cate as legal.
Although the alleged abuse took place in 2002, when Josh Duggar was 14 years old, the police report was compiled after he had turned 18 – so Cate said there was no basis for the case to be sealed.
Besides, a second law enforcement agency – the Washington County Sheriff’s Office – reached the same conclusion and released its records on Josh Duggar after reviewing five state attorney general opinions dating back to 1992.
The Washington County Attorney, however, told CNNMoney that he believes the sheriff’s office should not have released its records.
“If I could build a time machine, this wouldn’t have come out in the first place,” said County Attorney Steve Zega. “A juvenile record doesn’t cease to be a juvenile record when the person ceases to be a juvenile.”
The sheriff’s office contacted Judge Stacey Zimmerman, who ordered the destruction of the Springdale police records at the request of a victim the day after they were published by InTouch Weekly, to see if her order applied to their records, as well.
The judge, an associate of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, told the sheriff’s office that she believed the records were covered under a statute exempting some juvenile records from the FOIA.
“However, that exemption does not cover records of concluded investigations when the names of the perpetrator and the victims are redacted and when the offender has reached adulthood, and in regard to which there are no court orders forbidding the release,” said Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association.
An attorney who specializes in public record cases told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the law enforcement agencies had no other choice than to release the records.
“They had to release the reports,” said attorney John Tull, of Little Rock. “Those records are not closed under FOI. The alleged perpetrator had attained his majority at the time it was released, and once his name and all the victims' names were blacked out, it was subject to FOI.”
Tull said the Arkansas statute exempting juvenile records in a variety of cases does not apply to police reports.
“These are police records, not court records, so I don’t believe the court has authority to order destruction of the records, nor do I think that the police department has any alternative but to release the records pursuant to Freedom of Information,” said Tull, an attorney for the Arkansas Press Association.
Kelly claimed during the interview that the Duggars hadn’t been given a “heads-up” about the report’s release, and the couple did not dispute her, but records show city officials had alerted them – a courtesy that is not required by law.
Watch this video report posted online by Fox News: