FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Gary R. Cooper,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 87-264 and 87-273

 

Chief, East Hartford Police Department and East Hartford Police Department,

 

Respondents January 27, 1988

 

The above-captioned matters were heard as contested cases on October 15, 1987, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The cases were consolidated at hearing upon agreement of the parties.

 

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

 

1. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter dated August 25, 1987 the complainant made a request of the internal affairs division of the respondent department for records of civilian complaints, internal affairs investigations and disciplinary actions concerning the use of improper language, the failure to perform duties properly and insubordination by members of the respondent department. The complainant agreed to accept copies from which had been deleted the names of civilian complainants and asked that, on the basis of his unemployment, copying fees be waived.

 

3. By letter dated August 26, 1987 the respondent chief responded to the complainant by noting that his request was "burdensome" but that it would be complied with "within a reasonable amount of time."

 

4. By letter dated August 27, 1987 the complainant objected to the respondent chief's failure to state precisely when the records would be available. The complainant indicated that he expected the records to be available by September 4, 1987.

 

Docket #FIC 87-264 and 87-273 Page Two

 

5. Also by letter dated August 27, 1987 the complainant made a request of the internal affairs division of the respondent department for copies of the following records:

 

a. Civilian complaints, internal affairs investigations and disciplinary actions concerning six named members of the respondent department;

 

b. Civilian complaints, internal affairs investigations and disciplinary actions concerning allegations of brutality by any member of the respondent department;

 

c. Investigations and disciplinary actions concerning a November 13, 1985 shooting incident involving Officer Louis Piacenta;

 

d. The filing index maintained by the internal affairs division of the respondent department for the past ten years; and

 

e. The attendance records of Alexander Grimshaw for the past ten years.

 

6. In his August 27, 1987 request the complainant agreed to accept copies from which had been deleted the names of civilian complainants and asked that, on the basis of his unemployment, copying fees be waived.

 

7. By letter dated August 28, 1987 the respondent chief acknowledged the complainant's request for records, noted that it was "quite burdensome," and stated that the request would be complied with "within a reasonable amount of time."

 

8. By letter of complaint dated September 10, 1987 and filed with the Commission on September 15, 1987 the complainant appealed the respondents' failure to comply with his August 25, 1987 request for records, which complaint was docketed as #FIC 87-264.

 

9. By letter dated September 10, 1987 the respondent chief informed the complainant that the requested records were being compiled and edited and that as soon as the compilation and editing had been completed the complainant would be sent a bill for copying costs, pursuant to 1-15, G.S.

 

10. By letter to the Commission dated September 14, 1987 and filed September 15, 1987 the complainant asked that the Commission consider his request for waiver of copying fees.

 

Docket #FIC 87-264 and 87-273 Page Three

 

11. By letter to the complainant dated September 15, 1987 the respondent chief stated that the requested documents had been partially compiled and that upon payment by the complainant of $945, copies would be made.

 

12. By letter to the Commission dated September 21, 1987 and filed September 23, 1987 the complainant again asked the Commission to resolve the issue of his request for a waiver of copying fees.

 

13. By letter to the Commission dated and filed September 25, 1987 the complainant appealed the respondents' failure to comply with his September 27, 1987 request for records, which complaint was docketed as #FIC 87-273.

 

14. In a letter dated October 5, 1987 the complainant offered to limit the number of copies necessary by excluding from his request investigative materials and materials concerning himself.

 

15. The internal affairs division of the respondent department estimates that it maintains hundreds of files, dating from approximately 1978, and that of such files, approximately 75% contain information of the type sought by the complainant. The respondents based their initial estimate of copying costs upon an approximation of an average of 20 pages per relevant file. As limited in his October 5, 1987 letter, the complainant's request would cover approximately four to five pages per file.

 

16. It is found that the requested card file is indexed in three ways: By complaining witness's name, by the name of the subject officer and by chronology.

 

17. It is found that the respondents are prepared to provide the complainant with copies of any of the requested documents, with deletions or masking where appropriate to protect exempt information, and that they responded promptly to the complainant's August 25, 1987 and August 27, 1987 requests for records, indicating their willingness to provide copies of the requested documents.

 

18. It is further found, considering the volume of the complainant's requests, that the respondents' failure to produce immediately the requested records did not violate 1-15 or 1-19(a), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 87-264 and 87-273 Page Four

 

19. The respondents claim that the complainant is not indigent within the meaning of 1-15, G.S. and that they are therefore not required by the terms of such statute to waive copying fees.

 

20. It is found that the complainant is a former employee of the respondent department. His employment with the respondent department was indefinitely suspended August 4, 1987. When making his requests the complainant offered no proof of indigency other than to refer to his lack of employment, nor did the respondents demand any proof of indigency.

 

21. It is found that the complainant, who is a law student, has two part-time jobs which generate a small amount of income. The complainant has received donations of approximately $2,000 from former co-workers to assist in the payment of legal fees connected with the suspension of his employment with the respondent department. The complainant also owns a car, maintains an apartment and has approximately $8,000 in a savings account.

 

22. It is found that the respondents made their determination that the complainant was not indigent based upon their familiarity with his employment history and that, based upon the evidence offered at hearing, such determination did not violate 1-15, G.S.

 

23. It is concluded that the respondents did not violate 1-15, G.S. by refusing to waive copying fees for the complainant.

 

24. It is found that the estimated cost of complying with the complainant's requests exceeded $10.

 

25. It is concluded that the respondents' requirement of prepayment of fees did not violate 1-15, G.S.

 

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

 

1. At the Commission meeting of January 27, 1988, the parties agreed, and the Commission hereby orders, that the respondents shall provide the complainant with the information requested in complainant's October 5, 1987 letter within 40 days after the notice of Final Decision in this case.

 

2. The Commission notes that the respondents are not likely to be familiar with the financial circumstances of every person who, when requesting copies of records, asks for a waiver of fees based upon his or her indigency. The respondents are

 

Docket #FIC 87-264 and 87-273 Page Five

 

advised, therefore, to establish criteria and a procedure for determining the validity of a claim of indigency raised pursuant to 1-15, G.S. A finding of indigency or lack thereof will generally be left to the judgment of the public agency if the finding is not unreasonable and is based upon a consistent, fair procedure.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 27, 1988.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission