FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|Colin Poitras and The
|against||Docket #FIC 1998-085|
|Chief, Portland Police
Town of Portland; and Portland Police
Department, Town of Portland,
|Respondents||August 12, 1998|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 4, 1998, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, 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. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of §1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter dated March 27, 1998, the complainants requested that the respondents provide them with access to all emergency dispatch tapes related to the March 22, 1998, death of Andrew McClain at Elmcrest Hospital.
3. On March 28, 1998, the respondents informed the complainants that their request was denied since the tapes at issue were part of an ongoing investigation.
4. By letter dated and filed on April 3, 1998, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act by declining to provide access to the requested records.
5. It is found that the requested records are public records within the meaning of §§1-18a(5), G.S. and 1-19(a), G.S.
6. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:
[e]xcept as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained by any public agency shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records promptly during regular office hours or to receive a copy of such records .
7. The respondents contend that §1-19(b)(3)(C), G.S., provides a basis to withhold the requested records. Specifically, that statute provides that the following records shall be exempt from mandatory disclosure:
records of law enforcement agencies not otherwise available to the public which records were compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime, if the disclosure of said records would not be in the public interest because it would result in the disclosure of (C) information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to such action .
8. It is found that the records described in paragraph 2, above, consist of three audio tapes, one of which is a tape of a 911 telephone call, the other two of which are tapes of the dispatches of emergency personnel to the scene. It is further found that such records are records of a law enforcement agency within the meaning of §1-19(b)(3)(C), G.S.
9. It is found that, as of the date of the hearing in this matter, the respondent department, the States Attorney, and the Connecticut State Police were in the process of investigating the death of Andrew McClain. It is further found that the records described in paragraph 2, above, were compiled in connection with such investigation and that the States Attorney, as the chief official responsible for investigating crime in the state, contends that premature release of any case file information may prejudice a future prosecution. It is further found that the request described in paragraph 2, above, was made very early in the investigation described herein, and that the potential for prejudice to future prosecution is difficult to gauge at such an early point. However, it is found that the respondents contention in such regard is not unreasonable under the facts and circumstances of this case.
10. It is found that the information contained in the requested records constitutes information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action and that disclosure of such information could be prejudicial to such action.
11. It is concluded, therefore, that §1-19(b)(3)(C), G.S., provides a basis to withhold the requested records and that the respondents did not violate §1-19(a), G.S., by denying the complainants access thereto.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The complaint is hereby dismissed.
2. Certainly, it is easy to claim that release of any part of an investigative file would prejudice a future prosecution. The respondents are cautioned that blanket claims of prejudice to future law enforcement prosecutions are unlikely to prevail in every case brought before the Commission. However, the facts and circumstances of this case make it reasonable to give the respondents the benefit of the doubt.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 12, 1998.
_________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission
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:
Colin Poitras and The Hartford Courant c/o Bill Sweeney The Hartford Courant 373 E. Main Street Middletown, CT 06457
Chief, Portland Police Department, Town of Portland; and Portland Police Department, Town of Portland c/o Atty. Jean M. DAquila Halloran & Sage LLP One Goodwin Square 225 Asylum Street Hartford, CT 06103
__________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission