Bill Requires Police to Release Detailed Arrest Data – The Connecticut Law Tribune

By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

The legislature has passed a bill which requires police to release more information to the public about arrests, reversing a 2014 Connecticut Supreme Court decision which limited what police were required to give out while a prosecution is pending.

The measure was still awaiting Gov. Dannel Malloy’s signature as of June 5. If he signs the bill, it will go into effect in October.

Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of existing law, law enforcement agencies are obligated to release only the “record of arrest,” which includes the arrestee’s name and address; the date, time and place of the arrest; and the charges, and at least one additional report designated by the agency. The additional report could be the arrest report, incident report or a news release.

The ruling prompted an outcry among open-government advocates and media members, who said they need detailed arrest information to report the news.

The newly approved bill requires police to disclose the arrest warrant application and supporting affidavits, if the arrest was made by warrant, or the official arrest, incident or similar report, if the arrest was made without a warrant. It also requires that police blotter information include the arrestee’s race.

If a judicial authority orders the affidavit or report sealed, in whole or in part, then the law enforcement agency must disclose any unsealed portion, and a report summarizing the circumstances that led to the arrest, without violating the judicial authority’s order.

State Rep. Ed Jutila, co-chairman of the Government Administration Committee, helped spearhead the effort to get the legislation passed. He called the final result a compromise between the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney and the Freedom of Information Commission.

“It maintains a high degree of transparency while addressing the concerns the [chief] state’s attorney had about witnesses and the integrity of their prosecutions,” Jutila said. “This measure restores significant transparency and accountability to government during a critical time, when the liberty of our citizens can be impacted by the power of arrest and detainment.”

Jutila said he was displeased with the Supreme Court decision, which was contrary to how the Freedom of Information Commission had been interpreting the statute for years. Critics have argued that police press releases can be vague and leave out pertinent details. “A press release can contain virtually nothing, and there was no specificity about what had to be in it,” Jutila said.

The new bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from redacting from the arrest record anything except for witnesses’ identities, information which may prejudice a pending prosecution or law enforcement action, or information ordered sealed by a judge.

While a prosecution is pending, law enforcement agencies must disclose any public record that documents or depicts a person’s arrest or custody, unless there is a statutory exemption. If an agency receives a freedom of information request, it must notify the state’s attorney for the judicial district where the arrest occurred, to allow the state’s attorney to intervene in any proceeding before the Freedom of Information Commission.

Statutory exemptions include information such as the identity of informants or witnesses whose safety might be endangered; the identity of witnesses who are minors; signed witness statements; information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to the action; juvenile arrest records; names and addresses of sexual assault victims; and uncorroborated allegations.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane called the final result “a fair balance between the public’s right to know and having fair trials. It provides more information to the public, because law enforcement has to provide a summary of what led to the arrest, but it allows police to protect details like the identity of witnesses.”

Kane said it also allows police to protect some information, such as facts known only to the perpetrator or witnesses. “We want to know if the person knows information because they were there [at the scene of a crime], not because they saw it on television or other media,” Kane said.

Mary Schwind, managing director and associate general counsel at the Freedom of Information Commission, called the compromise language “an improvement over where the law stood after the Supreme Court decision last year, so we are happy with it.”

James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said he considers the final bill a compromise he can live with. Now, he said, “the public will get actual police documents—affidavits or arrest reports. It also requires that police body camera videos be available. It preserves enough of the people’s right to know what the police are doing and how they are performing.”

The Supreme Court’s decision stemmed from a freedom of information complaint against the State Police following the 2008 arrest of Toai Nguyen, who had been charged following a near fatal attack on his father on Route 8 in Derby. Police issued a press release on the incident, but refused to release the full arrest report. It took several months for the New Haven Register to obtain it.

According to the Register’s testimony before the legislature, once the report was finally released, the newspaper’s staff learned important information which hadn’t been in the original press release, including how the defendant was in the country illegally at the time of the attack.•

The author of this article, as a reporter for the New Haven Register, filed the original FOI complaint against the State Police that resulted in the 2014 Connecticut Supreme Court case.

Read more:

Pearlman: Citizens need more information, not less –

Last year, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned some 20 years of Freedom of Information law when it concluded that police departments need only disclose a bare minimum of arrest information (name, address, date, time and charges) pending prosecution.

This ruling applies even if other arrest information is not exempt from public disclosure. The Supreme Court majority itself, however, recognized that its tortured reading of the law is in need of legislative clarification.

House Bill 6750 is now wending its way through the General Assembly.

The bill was introduced to reestablish the law that existed prior to the unfortunate Supreme Court decision.

The bill passed through the legislative committee dealing with Freedom of Information in good fashion. It was then sent to the Judiciary Committee where, at the urging of the Chief State’s Attorney, it was amended to negate the original intent of the bill and, in essence, would codify into law the Supreme Court’s ruling.

As one who has been working in the field of government transparency and accountability for over 40 years, I am not exaggerating one iota when I say that failure to enact House Bill 6750 as originally proposed will be one of the final nails in the coffin of open government in Connecticut.

Ironically, Connecticut had been considered one of the enlightened pillars of good government, but unfortunately, of late it has earned a reputation as one that tolerates corruption and governmental misconduct. This is a stain on the entire state and an embarrassment to all of us who call Connecticut home.

Because government gives its law enforcement agencies monopoly power over the use of force and incarceration, they pose one of the greatest threats to a democratic form of government, if and when that power is misused or abused.

The aftermaths of the tragic killings of minorities by police officers — fueled by a lack of public information about those killings — in Florida, Missouri, New York, California, Wisconsin, and now in Baltimore, illustrate how police, prosecutorial, and indeed judicial secrecy has led to the widely-held perception, particularly in minority communities, of official government cover-ups of police misconduct.

Connecticut has not been immune to such cases of police misconduct. Racial profiling and the excessive use of force have been issues here for decades.

Some have come to light only because civilians saw and recorded what transpired. Such episodes have led to a general distrust of, and a lack of confidence in, not only our law enforcement agencies, but all of the institutions of government — something public opinion polls report consistently.

Provisions in the Freedom of Information Act permit a police department to withhold any record or photograph whose disclosure would prejudice a prospective law enforcement action, endanger witnesses, or reveal secret investigatory techniques pending a public trial that may never occur, especially if it involves police misconduct.

As originally drafted, House Bill 6750 would require that during the pendency of a criminal prosecution, a law enforcement agency must disclose at least basic police blotter information, without redaction.

All other records about the arrest would be subject to disclosure unless they fall within the Freedom of Information Act’s very specific and categorical non-disclosure provisions dealing with law enforcement agencies.

House Bill 6750, in the form passed by the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, strikes an appropriate balance between protecting transparency and accountability in government, on the one hand, and preserving the integrity of pending prosecutions on the other.

The bill as amended by the Judiciary Committee does not. It simply would permit law enforcement agencies to keep secret virtually any information they choose without reference to the specific exceptions to disclosure actually set forth in extreme detail in the Freedom of Information Act itself.

It would eliminate a two decade old, time-tested system for determining what information must be disclosed and what may be withheld from the public pending a criminal prosecution.

Without the bright line rule that would be re-established under the original draft of the bill, it is far more likely that corruption and misconduct will remain hidden from public view.

And, unfortunately it will become much more likely that the public’s mistrust of our law enforcement institutions and officers will continue to erode and lead to the consequences we so recently witnessed elsewhere.

Mitchell Pearlman, from 1975 to 2005, was executive director and general counsel of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

Editorial: Government Openness Dealt Another Blow – Hartford Courant

That rumble you hear is Ella T. Grasso turning over in her grave in disgust at the damage today’s public officials are doing to the cherished concept of open government that she and lawmakers of her time bequeathed to the state.

“Secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy,” declared the preamble of the landmark Freedom of Information Act signed by Gov. Grasso in 1975. Those proud FOIA pioneers who put Connecticut at the forefront of government transparency would be aghast at how much secrecy clouds the public sphere today and how much trickery is used to advance secrecy’s cause.

Many public officials — legislators, prosecutors and the police — simply find it inconvenient to trust the public with the truth.

The leading immediate battle in the fight against secrecy centers on House Bill 6750, which began life this session as a means to reverse a bad state Supreme Court decision.

The justices had, in their decision last year, severely restricted the amount of information that police departments are required to disclose about arrests to so-called blotter information and either an incident report or a press release. Under the court decision, police would not be required to release such vital information as the increasingly important footage from body cameras — information that holds clues as to whether law enforcement officers are doing their jobs properly and with respect for civilians.

House Bill 6750 as originally written was indeed a good antidote to the Supreme Court’s suffocating restrictions. It would have required that all arrest records be open to the public unless they are exempted for reasons already covered by law, such as to protect the identity of informants or to avoid prejudicing a prosecution.

The bill passed the government administration and elections committee comfortably — only to be bastardized in a surprise move by the judiciary committee. Judiciary, at the behest of Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, rewrote House Bill 6750 to restore the court’s meager disclosure requirements.

This is disgraceful. The disclosure of arrest records is needed to hold the police — in important ways the most powerful of government agencies — accountable and to elevate the public’s trust in government.

Mr. Kane and transparency advocates talk of negotiating a compromise. But HB 6750 should be restored to its original wording and passed by the General Assembly.

HB 6750 derailed

At the behest of Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, the General Assembly Judiciary Committee has significantly watered down Freedom of Information legislation designed to re-open police investigatory files of arrests.
The Government Administration and Elections Committee had adopted a bill (H.B. 6750) that relied on state FOI statute 1-210(b)(3), which provides these eight exemptions:

the identity of informants not otherwise known or the identity of witnesses not otherwise known whose safety would be endangered or who would be subject to threat or intimidation if their identity was made known, (B) the identity of minor witnesses, (C) signed statements of witnesses, (D) information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to such action, (E) investigatory techniques not otherwise known to the general public, (F) arrest records of a juvenile, which shall also include any investigatory files, concerning the arrest of such juvenile, compiled for law enforcement purposes, (G) the name and address of the victim of a sexual assault or injury or risk of injury, or impairing of morals or (H) uncorroborated allegations subject to destruction. pursuant to section 1-216;

Under 210, if it isn’t exempt, it needs to be released.

The state Supreme Court ruled last July that FOI statute 1-215 trumps 1-210. The court asked the legislature to revisit the issue.

215 is much more restrictive and allows for nothing more than name of person arrested, date, time and place of arrest and a police report or press release that need say no more than name, rank and serial number. What Kane gave the Judiciary Committee is based on 215 also calls for the arrest affidavit to be released if there is a warrant; or a summary of the facts if no warrant. But what that does is still limit what can be released.

Judiciary opted for Kane’s version. The debate continues in the General Assembly.

Discussion begins at 1 hour 45 minutes 40 seconds.

Bring Sunshine Back to Connecticut Law Enforcement – New England First Amendment Coalition

By James H. Smith

The sun isn’t shining brightly on law enforcement action in Connecticut.

The sun did shine one day last month on the State Legislature with testimony on a bill that would open up criminal investigations more to the public. But now the legislation is stalled in committee. It may or may not see the light of day.

As of this moment, the public can be denied 911 tapes, mug shots of those arrested for crimes, the race of anyone arrested — just about anything but who was arrested, where and for what.

For two decades much of the information gathered by police in criminal investigations and arrests has been available to the public. But last summer the state Supreme Court ruled, in essence, that police can keep secret almost everything they obtain in crime investigations. Technically, it ruled that one part of the FOI statutes, Section 1-215, which limits what must be released, trumps another, Section 1-210, which provided for more transparency into police activity.

The Court suggested that the Legislature revisit the issue and rectify the seeming contradiction in the sate’s laws.

After FOI advocates met with the leaders of the Legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, which has cognizance on FOI matters, it offered H.B. 6750, An Act Expanding the Requirement for Disclosure of Arrest Records During a Pending Prosecution Under the Freedom of Information Act.

The bill drafted by the committee would reverse the Supreme Court decision. There was a full day of hearings where police and prosecutors opposed the legislation and FOI advocates supported it.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane testified that “the Supreme Court went through the legislative history of the statute . . . when this Legislature very wisely enacted that section (1-215),” thus narrowing the scope of what must be disclosed.

The bill before the committee shifts authority back to Section 1-210, which was the basis of 20 years of Freedom of Information Commission decisions on what police must release.

FOI Commission Executive Director Colleen Murphy testified how she looked back at the legislative history and found then-Sen. George Jepsen, now the state attorney general, saying that, “By closing off arrest records, we open up arrest itself as an avenue of abuse of civil rights because it will no longer be necessary for the police to defend an arrest on the basis of information that would be immediately available to public scrutiny.”

Murphy told the GAE Committee that Kane’s position “permits the police at their discretion to avoid public scrutiny of many aspects of an arrest, such as mug shots showing an arrestee’s appearance at the time of arrest or videotapes or other recordings made at the scene or in the police station . . . The law enforcement agency could withhold whether the person sits in a position of public trust, immigration status, minority status and the like . . . The (court) decision raises the question should the police have this absolute discretion to decide whether the public can learn this very important information.”

The committee’s co-chairman, Rep. Edward Jutila (D- East Lyme),  told the last week that the statute  “is an embarrassment. It needs to be changed.” Section 215 gives the police “latitude to give virtually no information.” Still, Jutila could not guarantee the GAE Committee would move the proposed legislation to the floor.

Let’s hope it does. This bill must not die in committee. A full debate in the House and the Senate is needed.

James is a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors and is president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.

Editorial: Sunshine needed –

Mitchell W. Pearlman, of Glastonbury, probably knows as much about open government as anyone. He has served as director of both the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and the Office of State Ethics. He has taught, lectured and written extensively on the subject, and has consulted on democratic governance both in this country and abroad.

So if Pearlman is concerned about the direction in which the General Assembly is steering this state — and he is — then we should probably take notice. And he says our legislature, which once was a pioneer in open government, having passed the landmark Freedom of Information Act in 1975, “more recently has earned a reputation as one that tolerates corruption and governmental misconduct.”

From city halls to the Capitol, recent years in our state have been darkened by the corruption trials of public officials, including a second guilty verdict on the same ex-governor. And the current governor, instead of concluding that more openness might lead to better government, has doubled his relentless efforts to bring the formerly independent Freedom of Information Commission to heel.

Then, last summer, the state Supreme Court issued a divided decision that allowed law enforcement agencies to keep more information secret. They can now disclose a bare minimum of arrest information until prosecution, and that can take months, sometimes years. Previously, police had to provide more information about arrests or give good reason why that information should not be made public.

Why this change of direction? Why, four decades after Watergate, are we heading toward more government secrecy?

Fortunately, there’s a bill before the legislature — HB 6750, “An Act Expanding the Requirement for Disclosure of Arrest Records during a Pending Prosecution under the Freedom of Information Act” — that would restore some of the FOIC’s authority, but at the moment it’s bottled up in committee.

Remarkably, the court in its decision explicitly recognized that its interpretation of the law was in need of clarification by the appropriate branch of government — the legislature. For that reason alone, HB 6750 at least deserves a debate by that body.

There are times when police need to withhold information; for instance, to protect the identity of an informer. But the FOI Act already allows for such exceptions, so that’s no reason to hamstring the law.

Society entrusts the police with great power, including the exclusive right to use force. While we believe that most cops honestly try to do the right thing, there have been too many exceptions, both here and across the nation, not to keep safeguards in place.

One of those safeguards was Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, before the court watered it down. HB 6750 would restore some of its bite, so this bill should get a full hearing and debate. Let the General Assembly take the reins and steer our state back toward open government.

What grows in the darkness? Only creepy-crawly things. Let there be light!

Editorial: Police Should Not Be Deciding What Public Can Know – Hartford Courant

Editorial: It’s in the public’s welfare to have information on crimes in communities.

A state with the nickname of Corrupticut should think hard about the wisdom of leaving entirely up to police whether to release important arrest records while a prosecution is pending.

A 2014 state Supreme Court ruling allows police to withhold all but the sparest of information on arrests until cases are prosecuted, which can take years. The court said police must release so-called blotter information (name, address, time of arrest, charges) and little more.

Even before the ruling, getting such public records as mug shots and cruiser videos was not easy in Connecticut. Civilians in towns with histories of police problems (Enfield and East Haven come to mind) should be especially concerned that such evidence will be out of reach just when the public needs it.

The ruling was based on what one critic called a “tortured” interpretation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act. House Bill 6750 would restore what Connecticut had for two decades: public access to police arrest records unless those records qualified for exemption. Exemptions included juvenile records or anything that could identify or cause harm to a witness.

The bill should pass. At the very least, it should break through a logjam in the government, administration and elections committee for a debate on the floor of the House.

It’s in the public’s welfare to have information on crimes in communities. But also, the public should be free to monitor how police are handling arrests. Public records can serve as a check on abuses of their considerable powers.

The Rev. James Manship, for example, was arrested in 2009 for videotaping East Haven police at a Hispanic grocery store. The priest later said, after the two officers were found guilty of violating the civil rights of Latinos, “There were 27 drafts of my police report, 27 drafts of fiction upon fiction upon fiction to try and discredit me.” Under the supreme court ruling, police may choose to give out a press release instead of a police report. It’s entirely up to them.

Many police departments are loath to abide by even the minimal requirements that the supreme court says they must follow. In a compliance check last year by three Connecticut newspapers, New Haven police and state police Troop G in Bridgeport, among others, refused to provide even basic blotter information on arrests.

Coincidentally, this is the 10th anniversary of Sunshine Week, a celebration started by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. It’s also the 66th anniversary of the book “Freedom of Information,” written by the late Hartford Courant Editor in Chief Herbert Brucker (also president of ASNE). It’s a shame that the state where the now-ubiquitous term for open government was coined is lapsing into secrecy.

Let the sun shine: Pass Raised Bill 6750 – The Lakeville Journal

By Dan Klau

The Connecticut General Assembly held a public hearing last week on Raised Bill 6750, An Act Expanding The Requirement For Disclosure Of Arrest Records During A Pending Prosecution Under The Freedom Of Information Act. The bill seeks to overturn a Connecticut Supreme Court decision last year, Comm’r of Public Safety v. FOIC, which set aside the Freedom of Information Commission’s longstanding (20 years!) interpretation of a provision of the Freedom of Information Act concerning the release of records concerning arrests. The Supreme Court decision was bad for openness and transparency, the proposed bill is good and the arguments against the bill are weak. The Legislature should pass the bill and the governor should sign it.

•  •  •

What is all the fuss about? It’s fairly simple. Since Governor Ella Grasso signed the FOIA into law in 1975, the FOIA has included a very important exemption, known colloquially as the “law enforcement exemption.” (See General Statutes § 1-210(b)(3).) That exemption allows law enforcement agencies to refuse to disclose records compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of a crime if, but only if, the disclosure of the record would not be in the public interest for one or more of seven reasons. Amongst other reasons, disclosure is not required if it would reveal the identity of an informant, prejudice a prospective law enforcement action or reveal records of a juvenile.

This is an important and necessary exemption to the FOIA. I support it, and the FOIC almost always supports law enforcement agencies when they invoke the exemption.

So what’s the problem? The police, both state and local, want even more power to withhold documents concerning an arrest, even if the disclosure of the records would not cause any problem the law enforcement exemption exists to prevent. This naked desire for even more power to deny public access to law enforcement records is extremely disturbing.

Here’s what Raised Bill 6750 would actually do. Since 1994, the FOIA has required the police to always release certain basic information about an arrest — so-called “blotter information”: name of arrestee, date of arrest, the offense(s) allegedly committed, etc. Such records are not subject to any exemption. However, for nearly 20 years, the FOIC held that other law enforcement records of an arrest, beyond that basic blotter information, also had to be released unless they fell within the law enforcement exemption. In other words, blotter information constituted the absolute minimum information about an arrest — the “floor” — that law enforcement had to disclose. The law enforcement exemption constituted the “ceiling” on disclosure.

Then, last summer, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting that longstanding interpretation. According to the Supreme Court, the FOIA allows the police to withhold additional records concerning an arrest, even if those records do not fall within the law enforcement exemption. The disclosure floor stayed the same, but the ceiling dropped down dramatically. Fortunately, the Supreme Court wisely invited the General Assembly to revisit that interpretation and consider amending the FOIA to restore the FOIC’s interpretation. In other words, the Supreme Court kicked the ball over to the Legislature.

•  •  •

Raised Bill 6750 accepts the Supreme Court’s invitation. It merely seeks to return the law to the state in which it existed prior to the Supreme Court’s recent decision. The FOIC’s interpretation of the law worked just fine for 20 years. It struck a proper balance between the public’s right to know how the police conduct their business and law enforcement’s legitimate need to keep certain information private. Raised Bill 6750 would restore that balance. As I said, but it bears repeating: The Legislature should pass the bill and the governor should sign it.

Dan Klau is a Hartford-based attorney whose practice focuses on appellate and First Amendment litigation. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

To know, or not to know? – The Lakeville Journal Editorial

Every recent legislative session in Connecticut has brought another challenge to open information that is both meaningful and dangerous for those who care about governmental accountability. This time, one of those is the need to reverse the state Supreme Court decision in 2014 that changed the amount of information that police must make public. That decision made it necessary only for police to share, about any incident, the arrest report, the incident report, the news release or some similar document. It is up to the cops to decide the amount of detail to include.

How would the police decide that? There are different ways to look at the functioning of government. One way is to suppose that everything done by those in authority is in the open and can only be kept secret if they can prove some overriding reason why that should happen. Another is to assume that actions taken by the government are done in secret, and will only be made public if engaged citizens make the case convincingly as to why that should occur.

Since 1975, when its Freedom of Information Act became law by unanimous vote of the Legislature, Connecticut has been a place where the actions of those in government have been considered as public actions. Do the citizens of Connecticut mind giving their public servants the opportunity to conceal some of the actions taken in their name? It seems likely we can all agree this is a time when privacy concerns are very real, and defensible, with too much personal information arguably available to too many people who should mind their own business a bit more. Yet when, for instance, police are conducting their business at a crime scene, should the 911 calls associated with it and the photographs taken there be difficult or impossible to access, as happened at the time of the Newtown Sandy Hook massacre? Is this the direction we want to take?

If so, while it could be seen that the rights of crime victims are being protected, such a policy could also provide perpetrators and those investigating an incident with tools to hide their own actions.

There needs to be a balance, which is hard to find, and many dedicated and intelligent people have been trying to find it since the end of the last Legislative session and since the state Supreme Court decision. Now is the time for the legislators to fix the damage done by the Court. There is a bill in the current Legislature, which should become law, House Bill 6750, that will amend what was set by the decision written by Justice Richard Robinson. The Court noted then that it was the Legislature’s responsibility to take on the effects of its decision if legislators thought it necessary. The House bill addresses the decision’s repercussions and should be passed.

Now is the time to let our representatives in Hartford know if you care about open information relating to police actions. Those representatives have offices that are open to their constituents, and they should always be willing to hear from them. That is their job, after all: to represent the will of the people they serve. Make your will known now:

State Rep. Roberta Willis (D-64),, 1-800-842-8267; State Sen. Clark Chapin (R-30),, 1-800-842-1421.