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RH mother dismisses suit, seeks to block newspaper request

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POSTED: April 26, 2014 8:00 a.m.

Two days after voluntarily dismissing a wrongful death suit against the city of Richmond Hill and a police officer over the 2013 suicide of her teen daughter, the mother is now asking a judge to keep police reports in the case from being released to the Savannah Morning News.

Laura Maia filed documents Thursday in Bryan County Superior Court asking a judge to keep Richmond Hill city officials from releasing investigative police reports to the Savannah Morning News through its local insert, Bryan Now.

The filing was a response to a written Open Records request by Bryan Now editor Jamie Parker made April 22 — the day Maia dropped her suit against the city and one of its police officers, Cpl. Douglas Sahlberg.

Bryan Now’s open records request sought “any Richmond Hill Police Department incident reports and/or investigation reports, both documents and audio records listing Sydney Lane Sanders and/or Laura Lane Maia as either the victim or complainant from Jan. 1, 2010 until Oct. 15, 2013.”

Under the Georgia Open Records Act, the city has three days from the date of the letter to either provide the information or provide reasons why it is exempt from being released.

Maia’s suit claims Bryan Now is seeking information involving two minors — Sanders was 14 when she committed suicide in April 2013, but it’s unclear from court documents who the other minor referred to is.

The suit also claims the information the newspaper is seeking is exempt under state law in part because it includes photographic or video evidence — though Parker’s letter doesn’t mention video or photos — which would show a deceased person in certain states; and because the public would have been excluded from any hearings on the records.

In addition, the suit says Sanders’ privacy interests outweigh the public’s right to that information because she was also not involved in or prosecuted for any crime when the records Bryan Now and the Savannah Morning News are seeking were generated.

It also said suicide reports are exempt from the Open Records Act.

In addition, Maia’s request states: ‘“General public curiosity’ cannot override the substantial and legitimate interest of Mrs. Maia’s privacy rights with respect to her deceased daughter and Ms. Sanders’ privacy rights with respect to the conduct of her life.”

Richmond Hill is named in this latest filing because it is required by law to respond to the request under the Open Records Act.

The legal wrangling over disclosure of police reports followed Maia’s voluntary dismissal Tuesday of her case involving the death of her daughter.

Filed in Bryan County State Court, it claimed Sander’s suicide was caused by negligence and misconduct by Richmond Hill officials and Sahlburg, who it said showed his daughter, a classmate of Sanders at Richmond Hill High School, photos of injuries to Sanders during an earlier suicide attempt.

The suit claimed that action played a part in Sanders’ eventual suicide.

Maia’s motion to drop her suit also included notice she could refile the same action against the city in six months.

 

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