FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

John C. Barletta,

 
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2010-093

Kimberly Weir, Acting Director of Security,

State of Connecticut, Department of Correction;

Angel Quiros, Warden, State of Connecticut,

Department of Correction, Northern Correctional

Institution; and State of Connecticut,

Department of Correction,

 
  Respondents November 17, 2010
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 24, 2010, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The complainant, who is incarcerated, appeared via teleconference, pursuant to the January 2004 memorandum of understanding between the Commission and the Department of Correction.  See Docket No. CV 03-0826293, Anthony Sinchak v. FOIC et al, Superior Court, J.D. of Hartford at Hartford, Corrected Order dated January 27, 2004 (Sheldon, J.).

 

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 1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.         It is found that, using Department of Correction forms, the complainant made records requests dated December 21, 2009 and January 5, 2010 for a list of the “gang identifiers” used by the Department of Correction (the “requested records”). The complainant indicated that he wished to know what symbols and signs to avoid.

 

3.         It is found that, by letter dated January 29, 2010, respondent Kimberly Weir denied the request, stating that information concerning “security risk groups” were exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to law.

 

4.         By undated letter filed with the Commission on February 11, 2010, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent Department of Correction (“DOC”) violated the Freedom of Information (“FOIA”) by failing to comply with his records request. The complainant requested the imposition of civil penalties.

 

5.          Section 1-200(5), G.S., provides:

 

“Public records or files” means any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method. 

 

6.           Sections 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., state, respectively, in relevant parts:

 

Except 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. 

 

 

Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record.

 

7.       Section 1-210(b)(18), G.S., provides in relevant part that nothing in the FOIA shall require the disclosure of:

 

Records, the disclosure of which the Commissioner of Correction . . . has reasonable grounds to believe may result in a safety risk, including the risk of harm to any person or the risk of an escape from, or a disorder in, a correctional institution or facility under the supervision of the Department of Correction . . .

 

8.         It is found that the requested records are comprised of a poster and various DOC memorandums which specify “gang identifiers” used by the respondent DOC. It is concluded that the requested records are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5), 1-210(a), and 1-212(a), G.S.

 

9.      Mr. John Aldi, Security Risk Co-Ordinator, Department of Correction, testified generally and it is found that, since the early 1990’s, organized gang activity inside correctional facilities has caused significant law enforcement and disciplinary problems. These problems include assault, murder, prostitution, and trafficking in illegal narcotics and prescription drugs. In one instance of gang violence, an inmate was set on fire and murdered. In another gang attack, four inmates jumped a fifth inmate and kicked his teeth out. As a result, the respondent DOC has implemented a broad spectrum of discipline to deter gang activity.

 

10.   Mr. Aldi also testified more specifically and it is found that gang identifiers are used by gang members to communicate with each other. Gangs in correctional facilities have attempted to enforce their own rules contrary to DOC procedures, so that, for example, inmates have to pay gang members in order to get a haircut or have their laundry done. It is also found that gang identifiers can place the inmate showing the identifier at risk.

 

11.   It is found, with general reference to the complainant, that he is incarcerated for murder, that while incarcerated he also murdered his cellmate in 1999, and that he struck a warden in the face with a razor blade in 2000. As a result of this last assault, the complainant was transferred to the Maryland correction system. In Maryland, he assaulted an African-American gang member, and Maryland corrections officials transferred the complainant back to Connecticut. The complainant has had an otherwise poor disciplinary record and, as of the hearing date, was in administrative segregation at Northern Correctional Institution.

 

12.   It is found, with more specific reference to the complainant, that he has tattoos of both a Nazi and a Confederate flag on his body, as well as other symbols generally associated with Aryan and white supremacy. The complainant also had a box of written materials, including many magazines, which advocated white supremacy and National Socialism. DOC officers confiscated many of these materials, but allowed the complainant to retain historical accounts of the SS military unit in Nazi Germany.       

 

13.   At the hearing, the complainant testified that the respondents were not allowing him to exercise his religious and political rights of free expression. He stated that he believes in white separatism, not white supremacy, and that African-American inmates were allowed to maintain black supremacy and black separatist literature.

 

14.   Mr. Aldi also testified specifically and it is found that, pursuant to the Code of Penal Discipline, no gang related literature is allowed in DOC facilities regardless of its racial or ethnic identification. For example, literature associated with “Blood and Crips”, a gang of mostly African-American inmates, is not permitted.

 

15.   Against this general and specific background, it is found that “gang identifiers” are a form of intelligence, used by gang members to organize gang activities, and used by DOC officers to thwart gang activities in correctional facilities. While some gang identifiers have generally known meaning, others are more esoteric. For example, the symbol “1488” is understood by some to connote a dual meaning, both “Hiel, Hitler” and a reference to the eighty eight precepts of white supremacist David Lane.

 

16.  It is also found that the complainant could sell or mail a list of gang identifiers to other inmates if, in the future, he earns release from administrative segregation.

 

17.    It is found that the Commissioner of DOC had reasonable grounds to believe that, if the requested records were provided to the complainant, other inmates would eventually have access to them. Gang members would then know what gang identifiers to avoid so that gang communications would be undetected by the respondent DOC. Gang members could use different identifiers which might evade DOC scrutiny. The new identifiers could be used to help organize threats to DOC staff and inmates. (The respondents did not allege or argue that providing gang identifiers to the complainant would allow him to identify African-American gang affiliated inmates, but there are also reasonable grounds to believe that such identification could lead to a disorder in a correctional facility.)

 

18.   It is concluded that the Commissioner of DOC had reasonable grounds to believe that disclosure of the requested records may result in a safety risk, including the risk of harm to a person, or a disorder in a correctional institution or facility under the “Blood and Crips”, supervision of DOC, within the meaning of 1-210(b)(18), G.S.

 

19.   It is concluded that the requested records are exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to 1-210(b)(18), G.S. It is finally concluded that the respondents did not violate 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., by declining to disclose the requested records to the complainant. Accordingly, there is no need to address the issue of civil penalties in this matter.

 

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 November 17, 2010.

 

 

__________________________

Cynthia A. Cannata

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:

 

John C. Barletta #219324

Northern Correctional Institution

P.O. Box 665

Somers, CT 06071

 

Kimberly Weir, Acting Director of Security, State of Connecticut,

Department of Correction; Angel Quiros, Warden, State of Connecticut,

Department of Correction, Northern Correctional Institution; and

State of Connecticut, Department of Correction

c/o Nancy Kase O’Brasky, Esq.

Department of Correction

24 Wolcott Hill Road

Wethersfield, CT  06109

 

 

 

 

____________________________

Cynthia A. Cannata

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

 

 

FIC/2010-093/FD/cac/11/22/2010