ACLU Sues Pawtucket Police for Refusing to Release Reports of Alleged Police Misconduct
Wednesday, August 09, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team
The lawsuit argues that the refusal to release the records is in violation of the state’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA).
“This is yet the latest example of a public body distorting the state’s open records law in order to undermine transparency and hide important information from the public. This cannot be allowed to stand,” said ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown.
The lawsuit, filed in Rhode Island Superior Court by the ACLU's cooperating attorneys James D. Cullen and R. Kelly Sheridan, is on behalf of Dimitri Lyssikatos, a member of the Rhode Island Accountability Project (RIAP), a non-partisan organization which promotes transparency and accountability in local government and state law enforcement.
As part of its work, RIAP maintains a publicly available database of reports generated by the IADs of police departments across the state, information it routinely obtains through APRA requests.
Lyssikatos, on behalf of RIAP, submitted an APRA request in February of 2017 to the Pawtucket Police Department for the past two years of internally generated reports investigated by the Department’s IAD that were not the result of citizen complaints.
In April, he received a response denying the request on the grounds that the records, even if redacted to protect the identities of the police officers and other individuals involved, were “personal individually-identifiable records,” and that they would shed no light on “official acts and workings of government.”
The denial further claimed that disclosure of the records would serve a “negligible” public interest.
The lawsuit argues that there is “no meaningful distinction between internal affairs reports generated as a result of citizen complaints and internal affairs reports generated without an underlying citizen complaint.”
The lawsuit argues that there is a “significant public interest” in those records, saying: “The reports of investigations conducted by the internal affairs department shed light on one of the core functions of government, policing; particularly the operation of the Pawtucket Police Department and the conduct of its officers in the execution of their duties.”
“We have the utmost respect and admiration for what police officers across this state do. However, it is essential to an open and transparent society that the public have access to the results of internal police investigations. There is no meaningful difference between reports generated as a result of citizen complaints and internal complaints. What matters is the result of those investigations, not their source,” said ACLU of RI cooperating attorney James Cullen.
The lawsuit is part of the ACLU of RI’s ongoing effort to promote open and transparent government through the enforcement of the Access to Public Records Act.
The City of Pawtucket released the following statement on Tuesday:
"We respect the role that the ACLU plays in advocating for the rights of individuals. The City continues to be open and transparent in its handling of requests and complaints, and seeks to provide as much information as possible, while balancing the rights of victims, families, and personnel. We look forward to learning the details of the case."
Updated 2 P.M. Tuesday
John Tarantino — Big cases. Big reach. And big influence.
Tarantino has headed big cases like the defense of the state’s pension reforms and fought against Rhode Island representing the paint industry in the protracted lead paint litigation.
Michael Kelly — Street fighting litigator that is happy to take on cities, the state, big companies - it does not matter.
Kelly’s cases are often controversial and nuclear. Recently, he beat the Department of Health on the suspension of former State Senator/pharmacist Leo Blais.
Nothing's dull when Kelly is involved.
Mike Sweeney — From Alex and Ani to BENRUS to representing one of the top venture funds in the region, Sweeney is half corporate attorney and half business consultant.
The co-founder of Duffy and Sweeney, he has been one of the most strategically smart advisers in the state.
Frank Williams - The former Chief Justice has been assigned to navigate pension lawsuits, 38 Studios and the Providence Firefighters’ battle with the City of Providence.
He may have more influence and make more money in his new role then he did when he served as Chief Justice.
As GoLocal wrote in April 2015, “Yet like so much of Williams' career in the public eye, the appointment was not without some degree of controversy. Williams will be paid $400 per hour for his work on the case, (according to a wpri.com report) and that fact led to criticisms on social media and talk radio.
Williams’ ability to become a lightning rod has been confounding to both Williams and his friends alike.”
Maureen McKenna Goldberg — Think Diana Ross. She is the lead of the Supremes. Nothing happens in the hallowed chambers of the Rhode Island State Supreme Court without Goldberg’s stamp on it.
With her husband, lobbyist Bob Goldberg making millions in lobbying fees and representing some of the most powerful business interests in business, their reach is wide and deep.
If you want to know what is really happening in the state, then get on their boat one weekend and keep quiet and listen.
Zach Darrow — Busy building one of the most dynamic business law firms in the state, complete with nearly a dozen real estate and corporate attorneys. Add to his mix a lobbying arm that functions like Pac-Man when it comes to tax stabilization agreements.
Darrow’s reach may be a little more complex than many see - the firm now has offices in New York and Miami.
Everyone took note when former Providence City Solicitor and Chief of Staff to Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Jeff Padwa, joined the firm earlier this summer. Darrow moves in mysterious ways.
Michael Forte - Stealth. Forte doesn’t get much press and he likes it that way. The new Chief Judge of the Family Court has a low-profile public persona, but is a growing power in the judiciary.
A Democratic legislator who was appointed to the bench under Governor Ed DiPrete, Forte has amassed some serious power-wattage in Rhode Island.
Knows Both Sides
Artin Coloian - He has enjoyed of the most complicated and seemingly paradoxical careers, as a staffer to both U.S. Senator John Chafee and Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. A political advisor (and donor) to many — his campaign finance report ranges from Governor Gina Raimondo to GOP Cranston Mayor Allan Fung to Progressive Representative Aaron Regunberg.
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Chris Graham — Whether it is a start-up looking to close venture funding or a biotech looking at acquisition, Graham is a skilled craftsman that makes deals happen.
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Henry Kinch — Once a top advisor to then-Governor Bruce Sundlun and now serves as the Clerk of Providence County Courts.
Kinch is highly respected in and out of the court. When smart political people want advice they call Kinch.
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Claire Richards — She has been crafting the legal strategy for the state of Rhode Island for decades.
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This is not a lifetime appointment - she has served at the pleasure of the Governor for decades. Whether it is a legal strategy on 38 Studios or advising on an appointment, she has been the behind-the-scenes lawyer for the state's top elected officials.
Max Wistow — Don’t look for friendly. His biggest fans say Wistow is one of the most aggressive lawyers in Rhode Island. His detractors use words that are unsuitable for publication.
He was selected by Governor Lincoln Chafee to pursue the recovery of the 38 Studios assets from a collection of litigants -- and in total, he recovered over $60 million.
Some top lawyers are known as a lawyers’ lawyer. Wistow is the lawyer most lawyer would hire to represent them.
Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the recovery was over $40 million, which had been previously noted. The figure has been updated to reflect the total at the conclusion of the legal proceedings, as of 2017.