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
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