“I withheld public records to protect the privacy rights of a dead guy who killed three people.” (Angie L. Pineda)
The Saddleback College administrators have “respectfully declined” the Lariat access to public information that could be used for awareness in terms of future tragedies.
Saddleback student Ali Syed went on a shooting spree Feb. 19, killing three people and ultimately taking his own life. Concerns, speculations, and mostly fear sprouted within Orange County.
In turn we, the Lariat staff, took it upon ourselves to dig to the core on the rarity of this issue, one which seldom occurs.
A specific email from the Lariat was sent out on Feb. 20 to Juan Avalos, Vice President of Student Services, and Saddleback College spokesperson Jennie McCue stating, “Under the California Public Records Act § 6250 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that pertain to any involvement in the Disabled Students Program/Special Services that former Saddleback student Syed may have had. [FERPA does not apply]”
-Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) had been previously used as a shield by the college to protect the rights of shooter Syed, which media lawyers called out as “bogus”-
In essence, the California Public Records Act requires a response within ten business days, and within that allotted time span we were denied.
“Saddleback College must respectfully deny your request for DSPS records pertaining Ali Syed. These records are medical and/or psychological records and are protected under HIPAA laws and are not considered public information,” McCue told the Lariat in an email.
The lack of transparency Saddleback administration has bestowed upon the community is wrong and conspicuous.
The Lariat immediately detected the use of HIPAA as a flaw that would weigh down the investigation process; just the same old run-around for the persistent yet undeceived journalist.
However, Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center was consulted to furthermore confirm that HIPAA did not apply in this case.
“This is really obnoxious. HIPAA only applies to people primarily in the business of providing health care, insurance providers and billing companies working with insurance companies. It covers nothing a college has, ever. This is just disrespectful. They don’t respect you enough to come up with a good lie anymore,” Goldstein wrote to the Lariat.
Immediately another email from the Lariat was sent to McCue in which the process of HIPAA was dissected and cautiously cut part by part so that the structure of this Act that was passed by Congress may be examined and analyzed thoroughly. Essentially HIPAA does not protect Syed’s records nor does FERPA; these rules cannot shield the most recent Orange County shooter.
According to Goldstein, Pima Community College refused to disclose student records of a murderer in January 2011 and ended up paying over $25,000 in attorney fees. Which is another reason why Saddleback administrators should comply with the Lariat’s requests.
If Syed had been a part of the disability or health service programs, the information would be essential to the public. The administration needs to help shed light on the situation to create awareness and promote the services that Saddleback College has for it’s students. Hindering this information from the community is unacceptable and irreputable.
On FOIA shaming-
On shooter Ali Syed-