FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Vera S. Zima,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 86-229

 

Chief of Police, Wallingford Police Department,

 

Respondent April 8, 1987

 

The above-captioned matter was first heard as a contested case on October 23, 1986, at which time the complainant appeared and offered testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The respondent did not appear. At the Commission's December 10, 1986 regular meeting the respondent appeared and requested a reopening of the hearing, which request was granted. On February 19, 1987 a second hearing was held, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared and offered testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found:

 

1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter dated June 13, 1986 the complainant made a request of the respondent for information regarding a March 28, 1986 fire at 84 Ridgetop Road, Wallingford, and the deaths, on the same date, of Connie Zima and her daughter, Tracy Zima.

 

3. By letter dated July 18, 1986 the complainant made a request of the respondent for an appointment to listen to the recordings of telephone calls received at the Wallingford police department between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1986.

 

4. By letter dated August 12, 1986 the complainant renewed her request to the respondent for records relating to the deaths of Connie and Tracy Zima. The deaths and fire are considered by the Wallingford police department to have been a murder-suicide and arson.

 

5. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on August 18, 1986 the complainant appealed the respondent's failure to provide her with the requested records. The

 

Docket #FIC 86-229 Page Two

 

complainant requested access to inspect all records relating to the Wallingford police department's conclusion that the incident was a murder-suicide and arson. The complainant requested copies of the following records:

 

a) the fire department's report on the March 28, 1986 fire;

 

b) the code key which would enable the complainant to understand the fire department's report on the March 28, 1986 fire;

 

c) the volunteer ambulance company's report on Connie Zima;

 

d) a medical report on Connie Zima;

 

e) the autopsy report referred to in an affidavit used by the Wallingford police department to apply to court for a search and seizure warrant;

 

f) the results of a blood test taken on William Zima at the World War II Veterans Memorial Hospital in Wallingford;

 

g) records relating to criminal charges against Thomas Hamera, former husband of Connie Zima; and

 

h) the record of the alibi given to the Wallingford police department by Thomas Hamera for his whereabouts at the time of the Zima deaths and fire.

 

6. The respondent has prepared copies of all records of the Zima matter, except those regarding the alleged sexual assault of Tracy Zima and pending investigation thereof, and has offered them, at no cost, to the complainant. There are approximately 950 documents in the file on the Zima matter. The respondent chose this method of responding to the request due to the allegedly disruptive nature of previous encounters with the complainant.

 

7. The complainant has rejected the respondent's offer of copies, insisting upon the opportunity to review the documents at the police department.

 

8. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides that every person shall have the right to inspect public records promptly during regular office or business hours or to receive a copy of such

 

Docket #FIC 86-229 Page Three

 

records. However, because the respondent's offer is of unlimited access to the records, at no cost, such offer satisfies the complainant's right to inspect public records.

 

9. The complainant has requested the return of certain documents and personal possessions taken by Wallingford police from 84 Ridgetop Road. The respondent claims that all such items have been returned to the complainant. The return of such items, however, is not within the jurisdiction of the Commission.

 

10. It is found that the complainant, on or about September 29, 1986, was provided copies of the documents referred to at paragraphs 5(a) and (c), above. On or about August 20, 1986 the complainant was given a copy of the report of Dr. Henry Lee, which contains all information referred to at paragraph 5(f), above. Prior to the date of hearing the complainant received, from other sources, copies of the records referred to at paragraphs 5(d) and (e), above.

 

11. It is found that the records referred to at paragraphs 5(b) and (g), above, are not in the possession of the Wallingford police department and are instead maintained, respectively, by the Wallingford fire department and the Bristol police department.

 

12. At hearing, the respondent agreed to provide the complainant with a copy of the record referred to at paragraph 5(h), above.

 

13. It is found that the delay in responding to the complainant's request for records, including the failure to provide access to the record referred to at paragraph 5(h), above, violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.

 

14. It is found that records relating to the alleged sexual assault of Tracy Zima and to the Wallingford police department's investigation thereof are not clearly encompassed by the complainant's request for access to inspect and copy. The complainant having expressed no objection to the withholding of such records, the Commission does not need to address the issue of whether such records are exempt from disclosure.

 

15. At the initial hearing on this matter the complainant attempted to expand her request to include a request to listen to the recordings of calls received by the Wallingford police department between 12:00 midnight and 2:00 a.m. on March 28, 1986. The Commission, however, can consider only the request upon which the complaint was originally based.

 

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16. The respondent claims the first call regarding the Zima deaths and fire was received at 4:08 a.m. on March 28, 1986 and that, therefore, the tapes requested do not contain information in which the complainant is interested.

 

17. It is found, however, that the actual worth of the recordings to the complainant is not relevant to their disclosability under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

18. The respondent claims that due to the complexity of the police department's recording system, which records twenty separate tracks simultaneously onto a single tape, it is not possible to allow the complainant the requested access to tape recorded telephone calls. The respondent claims that because a duplicate system is not available, providing the requested access would require closing the system down for forty hours.

 

19. The respondent further claims that the calls recorded during the period in question may contain information exempted from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(3), G.S., and that any attempt to mask protected information would require extraordinary time and expense and would interfere with the necessary ongoing use of the tape recorder by the police department.

 

20. It is found that the complexity of the police department's recording system cannot be used as a bar to disclosure of public records. Absent a capacity for retrieving and reviewing the contents of tape recordings, the system would serve little purpose. Because the police department must be able to review tape recordings for its own purposes, it must be able to do the same when a member of the public requests access. The extent of the burden imposed by such a task will affect the speed with which the request can be met, but does not relieve the respondent of its responsibilities with respect to such public records.

 

21. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-19(a), G.S., when it denied the complainant the opportunity to review tape recordings of telephone calls received by the Wallingford police department on March 28, 1986 between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint.

 

Docket #FIC 86-229 Page Five

 

1. The respondent forthwith shall provide the complainant with copies, at no cost, of all records of its investigation of the Zima deaths and fire, specifically including the record referred to at paragraph 5(h), above. Such order shall not include records regarding the alleged sexual assault of Tracy Zima and pending investigation thereof.

 

2. The respondent forthwith shall act in strict compliance with the requirements of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., regarding prompt access to inspect or receive copies of public records.

 

3. The respondent forthwith shall provide the complainant with access to tape recordings of telephone calls received at the Wallingford police department between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. on March 28, 1986. The respondent may determine how best to comply with this paragraph of the order.

 

4. In complying with paragraph three of the order, above, the respondent may delete information which is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of April 8, 1987.

 

Catherine I. Hostetter

Acting Clerk of the Commission