FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Estate of James Law,
  Complainants  
  against Docket #FIC 2003-401

Chief, Police Department,

City of Ansonia,

 
  Respondent September 8, 2004
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 31, 2004, 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.  The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.  It is found that, by letter dated October 9, 2003, the complainant requested that the respondent provide it with a copy of any and all records related to the death of James Law while in the custody of the Ansonia Police Department, including:

 

a.       audio and video tapes and/or recordings from fixed and mobile police cameras, phone lines, and police radios;

b.      records from department wireless or cellular phones;

c.       written and computer entries, including officer patrol logs and notes, beat assignments, on-duty roster sheets, incident reports, memorandums, computer aided dispatch logs, internal affairs investigations. 

 

3.   It is found that, by letter dated October 16, 2003, the respondent denied the request described in paragraph 2, above.

 

4.  By letter dated November 7, 2003, and filed on November 13, 2003, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act by denying it a copy of the records described in paragraph 2, above. 

 

 

5.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides, in relevant part:

 

[e]xcept as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to (1) inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours, (2) copy such records in accordance with subsection (g) of section 1-212, or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212.

 

6.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides, in relevant part that “[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record.”

 

7.  It is found that, on September 22, 2003, James Law was arrested by an Ansonia police officer, was injured while in custody, and later died.  

 

8.  It is found that the respondent was notified of Mr. Law’s injury soon after it occurred, and that, shortly thereafter, on the evening of September 22, 2003, the respondent notified the Department of Public Safety, Division of State Police [hereinafter “state police”] of such occurrence.  It is also found that the state police took charge of the investigation into Mr. Law’s injury on September 22, 2003, and that such agency took custody of many records requested by the complainant at such time.   It is further found that, subsequent to the state police involvement in the investigation, such agency provided a copy of such records to the Office of the United States Attorney [hereinafter “U.S. Attorney”].   It is found that while the state police and the U.S. Attorney are conducting an investigation into the injury and death of Mr. Law, the respondent is not. 

 

9.  It is found that, as a result of the involvement of the state police described in paragraph 8, above, the only records responsive to the request described in paragraph 2, above, which the respondent keeps on file or maintains, are: a dispatch card; a photograph of James Law, a time sheet, and an incident report [hereinafter “the requested records”].  

 

10.  The respondent submitted the incident report for in-camera inspection, which document shall be identified herein as IC-2003-401-1.    

 

11.  It is concluded that the requested records, including IC-2003-401-1, are public records within the meaning of 1-210(a), G.S.

 

12.  At the hearing in this matter and on brief, the respondent contended that the state police objects to release of the incident report and that the U.S. Attorney objects to release of all requested records.  It is found that both the state police and the U.S. Attorney are aware of this matter before the Commission, although neither agency moved to intervene.  It is found that the state police objects to release of IC-2003-401-1, citing 1-210(b)(3), G.S.   It is also found that the U.S. Attorney objects to release of the requested records, since it is conducting an inquiry into Mr. Law’s death.  

 

13.  On brief, the respondent contends that 1-210(b)(3)(C), G.S., exempts the requested records from mandatory disclosure.

 

14.  Section 1-210(b)(3)(C), G.S., provides that nothing in the FOI Act shall be construed to require disclosure of:

 

“[r]ecords 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 … information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to such action….”

 

15.  It is found that the respondent is a law enforcement agency within the meaning of 1-210(b)(3), G.S., and that he compiled the requested records in connection with investigations into the injury and death of Mr. Law.  It is also found that the requested records are not otherwise available to the public. 

 

16.  Upon careful examination of IC-2003-401-1, it is found that such record is a report of the officer who arrested Mr. Law, and details the circumstances of his arrest and booking.  The remainder of the requested records, a dispatch card, a photograph of Mr. Law, and a time sheet, were not provided to the Commission for inspection.  It is found that, other than a broad assertion of prejudice, the respondent has failed to prove how any of the requested records, including IC-2003-401-1, would prejudice a prospective law enforcement action if released, or that a law enforcement action is even contemplated. 

 

17.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the requested records are not exempt from mandatory disclosure by virtue of 1-210(b)(3)(C), G.S., and that the respondent violated the FOI Act by denying the complainant copies thereof.

 

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

1.  Forthwith, the respondent shall provide the complainant with a copy of the requested records described in paragraph 9 of the findings, above, at no cost.  

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 8, 2004.

 

________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

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:

 

Estate of James Law

c/o Lance Coughlin, Esq.

493 Main Street

East Haven, CT 06512

 

Chief, Police Department,

City of Ansonia

c/o Kevin M. Blake, Esq.

Shepro & Blake, LLC 

2051 Main Street        

Stratford, CT 06615-6341

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

FIC/2003-401FD/paj/9/9/2004