FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Ethan Rouen and the New London Day,  
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2006-064
Chief, Police Department, Town of Groton,  
  Respondents January 24, 2007
       

  

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 18, 2006, at which time the complainants and 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 January 13, 2006, the complainants made a request to the respondent for access to and a copy of all records of the investigation of the December 2004 death of Alexandria Berstecher.

 

3.      It is found that, by letter dated February 2, 2006, the respondent denied the complainants’ request claiming that the requested records were exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-210(b)(3)(C), G.S.

 

4.      By letter dated and filed on February 17, 2006, the complainants appealed to this Commission alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying their records request.

 

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

 

[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 . . . inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours, or . . . receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212. 

 

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

 

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

 

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.      The respondent’s burden of proof under 1-210(b)(3)(C), G.S., requires an evidentiary showing that the records are in fact to be used in a prospective law enforcement action, and that the disclosure of the records would be prejudicial to such action.  Department of Public Safety v. FOIC, 51 Conn. App. 100, 104-105 (1998).          

 

9.      It is found that Alexandria Berstecher was found dead in her Groton apartment in December of 2004 and that the Groton Police Department opened a criminal investigation into her death, calling the death suspicious and conducted the investigation, as procedure requires, as a murder investigation.

 

10.   It is found that the investigation is still open and is on-going.

 

11.   At the hearing on this matter, the respondent contended that disclosure of the information contained in the requested records would be prejudicial to a prospective law enforcement action because the department was still developing suspects and anticipated making more arrests. 

 

12.   The respondent submitted the requested records to the Commission for an in-camera inspection which records have been identified as in-camera records #FIC 2006-064 A1 through A251; B1 through B102; C1 through C62; and a video recording identified as in-camera record #FIC 2006-064D.

 

13.   It is found that the in-camera records are records of a murder investigation which include various police reports; evidence reports; search warrants; diagrams, photographs, and a video recording, of the crime scene; list of witnesses; signed statements of witnesses; and forensic lab reports.

 

14.   It is found that disclosure of the information contained in the requested records would disclose facts not otherwise known to the public which facts could be used by the police department to draw out the perpetrator.  It is found that disclosure of the information contained in the requested records would result in giving the perpetrator information that could motivate him or her to do or say something he or she otherwise would not do or say and compromise the police department’s ability to identify him or her as a suspect.  

 

15.   It is found that disclosure of the requested records would prejudice a prospective law enforcement action of the respondent.

 

16.   It is concluded that the respondent met his burden of proof by identifying the specific manner in which disclosure of the in-camera records would be prejudicial to a prospective law enforcement action. 

 

17.   It is therefore concluded that the in-camera records are exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to 1-210(b)(3)(C), G.S.

 

18.   Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondent did not violate 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., by denying the complainants’ records request.

 

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.

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 24, 2007.

 

________________________________

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:

 

Ethan Rouen and the

New London Day

47 Eugene O’Neill Drive

New London, CT 06320

 

Chief, Police Department,

Town of Groton

c/o Michael P. Carey, Esq.

PO Box 1591

Two Union Plaza, Suite 200

New London, CT 06320

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

 

FIC/2006-064FD/paj/1/31/2007