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Judge: Records Law Doesn’t Apply to Disney’s Private Security Guards

May 30, 1996

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Walt Disney World doesn’t have to disclose investigative records of its private police, a judge has ruled, rejecting efforts by a couple who blamed the attraction for their son’s death.

Florida’s public records law exempts private security forces such as Disney’s 750-officer corps from public scrutiny, Judge Belvin Perry said.

Disney is being sued by Robert and Kathlyn Sipkema, who contend that their 18-year-old son Robb was killed in a vehicle crash on Disney property because of the actions of its security officers.

The youth was in a pickup truck that a patrol guard tried to stop near the Magic Kingdom two years ago.

As part of the wrongful death suit, which has not yet gone to trial, the Sipkemas tried to obtain the company’s records on the case and filed a separate case in civil court when Disney lawyers sought to place conditions on the documents’ use.

The judge’s ruling, issued Wednesday after a trial in late March, relied heavily on previous court decisions on the state’s public records law, which doesn’t apply to companies or enterprises that provide their own security officers, Perry said.

Eric H. Faddis, the Sipkemas’ attorney, said he would appeal the ruling.

Faddis and expert witnesses had argued that the company’s security force carried out the same functions as police officers, from the way they deal with traffic violators to their investigations of serious offenses.

They emphasized that Disney’s 24,000-acre resort that straddles two counties is an autonomous district created by the Florida Legislature in 1967, with powers similar to city and county governments.

Company lawyers and witnesses said the company’s guards are hired by the Disney’s governing agency called Reedy Creek Improvement District to protect lives and property in the same way other security forces do.

Disney’s guards are unarmed but have powers to make traffic stops, detain suspects, conduct searches and seize evidence. They work in close cooperation with the sheriff’s departments in the two counties, Disney attorney David Evans argued.

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