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Blaine County, CNN Tussle in Court over Bergdahl Report

From the COLLECTION: 10 years of Bowe Bergdahl Stories series
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NATE BROWN/TIMES-NEWS Debra Kristensen, a lawyer for CNN, talks with media on Monday in Hailey, Idaho.

HAILEY • A judge will decide if CNN can access a police report involving the family of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl or if the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office was right to deny the network access.

The sheriff’s office has already released three reports about incidents involving the family in response to a public records request the channel filed in June. However, they haven’t released a fourth, saying it is exempt from disclosure because releasing it would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” quoting exemptions in Idaho’s Freedom of Information Act. The two sides argued their cases Monday before District Judge Robert Elgee.

Bob and Jani Bergdahl, of Hailey, have been in the spotlight since their son, Bowe Bergdahl, was kidnapped by a Taliban-affiliated group in Afghanistan in 2009. He was held until a month-and-a-half ago, when he was freed in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. He has been at the center of a political and media firestorm since his release; some people have been criticizing the Obama administration for making the deal, and some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have publicly accused him of walking away from his post. The Army is still investigating what happened; Bergdahl is back on active duty, in a desk job in Texas.

The sheriff’s office declined to release a report from Nov. 4, 1999. Tim Graves, representing the county, said he couldn’t argue the specifics of why the report doesn’t have to be disclosed without revealing its contents, but was confident that, once Elgee reviewed it in private, he would side with the county.

“I believe that once the court reviews the record, it’ll become ... apparent,” he said.

Debra Kristensen, a lawyer for CNN, said she didn’t see how a police report on what must be an inactive, 15-year-old investigation could be exempt from disclosure on privacy grounds. The law isn’t meant to protect people from embarrassment, she said, and it contains a strong presumption that records should be public.

“I cannot think of an example, given the passage aof time, that would fall under this extraordinarily narrow circumstance,” she said.

Both sides favored Elgee’s reviewing the report in private before making a decision. There is no timeline set for a ruling.

The sheriff’s office has released three reports involving the Bergdahls to CNN. One, from March 1998, details someone shooting at one of their vehicles with a pellet gun. In the second, from January 2013, deputies checked on the welfare of some children who were staying at the Bergdahls’ home. The third was a road-rage incident from August 2013, involving Bob and Jani Bergdahl, where no charges were filed.

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