TACOMA — The Tacoma News Tribune has filed a lawsuit against the University of Washington, alleging school administrators illegally withheld public records in a case involving a former softball team doctor accused of overmedicating student athletes.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, seeks interview notes taken during an internal investigation into Dr. William Scheyer and former softball coach Teresa Wilson.
The university’s investigation began after state health investigators in October accused Scheyer of writing false prescriptions in the name of a Washington softball player. He also was accused of improperly stockpiling medicine and handing out dangerous narcotics to athletes and others.
During the UW’s six-month investigation, more than 1,000 pages of interview notes were collected. Handwritten notes taken during discussions with coaches, administrators, doctors and athletic trainers were released, but the News Tribune reported Saturday that the school withheld those involving 18 current and former softball players.
Only parts of students’ testimony were included in a report released in April.
The players were key to the investigation that resulted in Wilson’s removal in December. School officials said she either knew or should have known that Scheyer was practicing bad medicine.
“The university has quoted from the student interviews when it suits its purpose,” Executive Editor David Zeeck said. “Having done so, it can’t also argue that the interviews are so private that no one else can see them. The taxpayers of Washington deserve to know what’s gone on in that program.”
The UW refused to release the entirety of the interviews, saying it would violate the Family Educational and Rights of Privacy Act and an exemption to the state public disclosure law aimed at protecting student records.
“We used the information, and when we released it we tried to redact from the report itself information that could identify the students,” said Norm Arkans, UW vice president for university relations. “But the notes themselves were part of the interview process between the university officials and the students, and it’s part of their student record.”
The newspaper’s lawsuit, filed Friday, contends that either the student interviews were protected under federal law, which the university violated by quoting them throughout its report, or the law does not apply to the interview notes.
The paper’s lawyer, Bill Holt, said the courts have interpreted the state Public Records Act broadly in favor of the public’s right to know. Federal law does not create an exemption to the state law, he said.
State and federal authorities also are conducting a criminal investigation into Scheyer and the athletic program.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.