FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Fred S. O'Donnell,
against Docket #FIC 93-105
John Vendetta, Hartford Fire Marshal,
Respondent November 10, 1993
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 3, 1993, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. By letter of complaint dated April 15, 1993, and filed with the Commission on April 19, 1993, the complainant alleged that the respondent failed to comply with his written records request. In his complaint, the complainant requested the imposition of a civil penalty against the respondent.
2. It is found that by letters dated March 2, 1993, the complainant requested copies of the following documents pertaining to a fatal fire that occurred on February 20, 1993, at 824 Albany Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut (hereinafter "the fire"):
(a) the initial and final investigative reports
(hereinafter "investigative reports");
(b) "902 reports" to the state fire marshal
(hereinafter "902 reports");
(c) narrative and interim reports (hereinafter
(d) fire department run reports and related
documents (hereinafter "run reports");
Docket #FIC 93-105 Page 2
(e) news releases, correspondence, or statements pertaining to evidence recovered from the fire scenes, including dispatch tapes, photographs or videotapes taken by, or recovered from witnesses to, or bystanders at, the fire (hereinafter "evidence").
3. It is found that at the time of his records request, the complainant enclosed a three dollar ($3.00) money order as payment for copies of the requested records.
4. It is found that by letter dated April 13, 1993, the respondent returned the complainant's money order, indicated that the requested materials were not enclosed with the letter, and referred him to Hartford's Corporation Counsel ("corporation counsel"), to whom the fire incident report had been forwarded.
5. It is found that the complainant construed the reply letter as a denial of his records request and did not contact the corporation counsel's office as instructed.
6. At the hearing the respondent provided the complainant with a copy of the investigative, 902, narrative, and run reports identified in paragraphs 2(a) through 2(d), of the findings, above.
7. Additionally, the respondent agreed to provide the complainant with a copy of the videotape of the fire scene, as requested, and access to all photographs taken of the fire scene so that the complainant can review them and tag those photographs he wants copied.
8. The respondent disputed the complainant's claim that he had denied the complainant copies of the requested records.
9. The respondent argued that where a fatality occurs it is his policy and practice to give the investigative report, including the documents described in paragaphs 2(a) through 2(e) of the findings, above, to the corporation counsel's office for review and action regarding Freedom of Information Act requests for disclosure, in light of possible civil and/or criminal claims.
10. It is found that the requested records are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.
Docket #FIC 93-105 Page 3
11. It is found that the respondent retained copies of the records that he turned over to the corporation counsel regarding the fire.
12. It is found that at, or near the time of the complainant's request, other requests for information about the fire had been made and the information was disclosed to those individuals either by the corporation counsel, or by the respondent upon the corporation counsel's instruction.
13. It is concluded that the respondent's practice of referring a requester to the corporation counsel whether before or after a determination about disclosure had been made, is in derogation of his responsibilities as a public agency under 1-15 and 1-19, G.S., and resulted in substantially delayed compliance in this case, and an avoidable violation of the promptness provisions of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
14. The Commission declines to impose a civil penalty against the respondent.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Henceforth the respondent shall strictly comply with the disclosure requirements contained in 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of November 10, 1993.
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 93-105 Page 4
PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.
THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:
Mr. Fred S. O'Donnell
P.O. Drawer E
Mystic, CT 06355
John Vendetta, Hartford Fire Marshal
c/o Evans Jacobs, Jr., Esq.
Hartford Corporation Counsel
550 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission