ACLU sues Pawtucket police for withholding documents

ACLU sues Pawtucket police for withholding documents

PAWTUCKET – The ACLU of Rhode Island sued the Pawtucket Police Department on Tuesday for failing to release certain reports of alleged police officer misconduct generated by its Internal Affairs Division. The suit argues that the refusal to release the records to a public transparency group is in clear violation of the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

The case has important ramifications for the public’s ability to monitor police misbehavior, states the ACLU in a news release.

In two major APRA lawsuits filed in past years, the R.I. Supreme Court ruled that the public is entitled to final reports of investigations of police misconduct. Those rulings make no distinction as to whether the investigations were prompted by citizens or the police department itself. However, Pawtucket police, relying on opinions issued by the attorney general’s office, make that distinction for purposes of granting or denying public access to the reports. Tuesday’s lawsuit seeks to overturn that premise as “completely unwarranted.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dimitri Lyssikatos, a member of the Rhode Island Accountability Project, a non-partisan organization promoting transparency and accountability in local government and state law enforcement. The group maintains an online database of reports generated by internal affairs departments.

Lauren Greene, spokeswoman for Mayor Donald Grebien, said city officials have nothing to hide.

“We respect the role that the ACLU plays in advocating for the rights of individuals,” she said Monday. “The city continues to be open and transparent in its handling of requests and complaints, and seeks to provide as much information as possible, while balancing the rights of victims, families, and personnel.”

Lyssikatos submitted a records request in February to Pawtucket police for the past two years of internal reports investigated by the department’s internal affairs officers that were not the result of citizen complaints. In April, he received a denial of the request on the grounds that the records, even if redacted to protect the identities of the police officers and others involved, were “personal individually-identifiable records,” and that they would shed no light on “official acts and workings of government.” The denial further claimed that disclosure of the records would serve a “negligible” public interest.

The lawsuit argues that there is “no meaningful distinction between internal affairs reports generated as a result of citizen complaints and internal affairs reports generated without an underlying citizen complaint.” Rather, it argues that there is a “significant public interest” in those records.

“Faith in our public servants relies on our ability to scrutinize how the government polices itself,” said Lyssikatos. “Secrecy in these matters should not be tolerated as it is incompatible with accountability and does nothing but foster distrust.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown added: “This is yet the latest example of a public body distorting the state’s open records law in order to undermine transparency and hide important information from the public. This cannot be allowed to stand.”

Comments

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING...other then finding ways to extort money for its sad, sorry, existence!

Granted, every once in a Blue Moon it does something good.

But, that is no excuse, or reason, for this Organization to continue on being what it has become vs. what was its original intent.

Bottom line, today, folks...it all about GREED and the God Almighty Dollar!

We the people have to pay for this police department and we elect the legislators who can pass laws for it to follow.
The public has every right to such records and should want to keep the good ol' PPD accountable to we the people. The ACLU May not have good intentions but on this one the bigger issue is Pawtucket citizen rights.