Officials within the state of New Jersey are refusing to reveal the identity of a former state trooper who was fired for “racially offensive behavior”.
Now they are facing legal challenges from open records advocates and news organizations.
While the activists are trying to cite state law to compel the release of the trooper’s name, they frankly don’t have much of a case when the current laws are carefully examined.
An alliance of 16 media outlets have joined in on a legal dispute regarding the identity of a state trooper who was relieved of their duty. The claim being made is that by not releasing the name of the trooper to the public that it’s violating P.L. 2001, c. 404, commonly known as the Open Public Records Act.
As of now, the case is in the lap of the Supreme Court, which if ruled in the favor of the media outlets, could create some serious issues for police departments within the state.
That’s because the state’s various police departments have made a general practice of not releasing the names of officers fired for various misconduct reasons.
What sparked this move was when word broke that an anonymous New Jersey state trooper was fired after admitting “to acting in an unofficial capacity to the discredit of (the State Police) while off-duty by having questionable associations, engaging in racially offensive behavior and publicly discussing police patrol procedures.”
The termination was disclosed via an annual report of the State Police Office of Professional Standards, which details a summary of disciplinary actions from the previous year.
Back in 2017, open records advocate John Paff filed a public records request seeking additional details on the termination, such as the troopers full name. The State Police declined the request, stating Paff had sought privileged information.
This denial by the State Police attracted the attention of CJ Griffin, a public records attorney who has a track record of notable wins regarding disclosure of government documents. Griffin filed a lawsuit on behalf of Paff’s group, Libertarians for Transparent Government.
The attorney went on to tell NJ Advance Media, one of the media outlets engaged in the suit:
“It is especially important that the public knows the identities of police officers who engage in racially offensive behavior so that we can ensure they don’t just move on to other police agencies.”
Yet, despite having some courtroom clout, Paff’s lawsuit was struck down by both a both a Superior Court judge and an appeals panel.
Just last month, a myriad of news organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing the disclosure of the fired trooper’s name is in the public interest. While the Supreme Court agreed last fall to take up the case, it doesn’t mean this is going to secure a win for Paff and the various media outlets.
There are two reasons why this suit is likely to go nowhere and the trooper’s name remain clandestine, those being a false claim of “public interest” and a terrible job citing existing records laws.
Firstly, Griffin’s firm and the media outlets are cherry picking New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act with the citation of one section referring to employees of public agencies that says:
“An individual’s name, title, position, salary, payroll record, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefor, and the amount and type of any pension received shall be a government record.”
While the above is an actual portion of the 22-page act, they’re omitting one portion from C.47:1A-1 of the law that details one of the most permitted exemptions from a record being public. That would be a citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The section reads:
“A public agency has a responsibility and an obligation to safeguard from public access a citizen’s personal information with which it has been entrusted when disclosure thereof would violate the citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Well, imagine that, people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
So, media outlets are trying to the whole “public interest” angle too, saying the public deserves to know what happened. General public curiosity, no matter how morbid, does not meet the bar set by a “public interest”.
Dissemination of information that a reporter hasn’t obtained via their own journalist efforts can’t be compelled against the department because there’s no proof the information serves “the welfare or well-being of the general public”.
The trooper was terminated for something they did off the clock, not in the commission of their duties as a trooper, and it wasn’t a criminal act. There’s literally zero weight to the “public interest” notion.
You’d figure that with all the legal clout and attorney’s on retainer they would figure this out by themselves and drop the suit. Then again, they likely are already aware of it and are hoping to stumble upon a court that will cave to the outrage mob.
In the meantime, privacy is also going out the window just over the line in New York.
Call it the “law of unintended consequences.” Or, maybe not so unintended.
Law Enforcement Today has been warning about the new social engineering “criminal justice reform” laws set to take effect in New York on Jan. 1.
One facet of the new law is that the rules of “discovery” have been changed. This is information that is provided by the prosecution to the defense in order to provide “disclosure” as to evidence or information that will be used to prosecute the state’s case against the defendant.
On Jan. 1, prosecutors must request criminal history reports from anyone who may act as a witness in a criminal case. This includes firefighters, emergency medical technicians, nurses, or anyone else who had contact with a victim or defendant in a criminal case.
Some fire departments in New York are objecting to that new requirement, saying it is an invasion of privacy.
The law will require that any criminal history information be turned over to defense counsel within 15 days of an arrest.
Of course, first responders and medical personnel are among the first people who have contact with crime victims and defendants, so naturally they will be adversely affected.
In order to request a criminal history report, police will need to obtain personal information such as dates of birth, home addresses and phone numbers from potential witnesses. This has raised concern among first responders and other potential witnesses, fearing that the information will fall into the wrong hands.
In Warren County, one fire department has made the decision not to release personal addresses and phone numbers of its members. Other fire departments are weighing their options. In addition, Glens Falls Hospital will only provide the hospital’s address and telephone number, according to officials with Warren County.
The coordinator for emergency services in Warren County, Brian LaFlure has said that first responders there are angry about what they deem to be an invasion of privacy.
Since many fire departments across New York are volunteer departments, it will create more work for them, and will require dedicating resources to track down information for any personnel who may have been at an emergency scene.
“They’re very upset about it,” LaFlure said. “Some fire departments have taken the stance that they will give out names and that’s it.”
The new requirements, passed by state legislators who are more interested in “feel good reform” than practical solutions have been widely panned by emergency services personnel, town and city leaders, and district attorneys who believe that they will place a substantial burden on resources.
As typically happens, this is yet another unfunded mandate passed on without additional funding from the state.
In one case, leaders of the Chester Fire Department were contacted by the Warren Cunty District Attorney’s Office to provide information for firefighters who responded to the scene of a police pursuit that ended up in a crash in their community where someone died.
The suspect in the case was arrested, and now the prosecution is seeking to obtain background on all the firefighters who responded, numbering more than a dozen. They were unaware of the new procedures and were caught off guard when the information was requested.
Chester Fire Capt. Ralph Bartlett, a retired Warren County sheriff’s sergeant, said he was both surprised and concerned when he learned about the change in state law when New York State Police contacted the department looking for personal information for the firefighters at the Sept 26 accident scene.
Department members discussed the issue, and decided that only names, ranks and the fire station’s address will be released. With that said, the department was researching its legal obligations and will cooperate as needed to make sure the criminal cases are not damaged based on opposition to the policy.
“This is going to create a lot of work,” Bartlett said. “We’re going to have to track who goes on every call and create a document for it.”
The most ridiculous thing about the new law is that most of those subjected to the background check will never be called to testify, yet their information will still be released.
Chester is not the only fire department trying to decide on how to comply with the new law. Both the Bolton and Queensbury Central fire departments’ firefighters are also weighing their options regarding turning over personal information.
At a county fire commissioners meeting, other departments in Warren County asked for copies of the Chester Fire Department’s policy.
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Bartlett also said that he had contacted the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, which was attempting to research options for fire departments under the new law.
For his part, Warren County District Attorney Jason Carusone understands the objections being raised by the fire departments. He said that while his office is legally obligated to turn over what information it can compile about potential witnesses, those witnesses are not required to cooperate with his agency in providing the information.
“There is nothing in the law that says a witness has to give their address or date of birth,” he said.
Right, until some liberal judge decides that not providing the information is contempt of court and ends up locking up a volunteer firefighter. One can easily see where this can go off the rails.
The big change with this new incarnation of the law is before, only witnesses who were definitely going to be called to testify at a trial or hearing required a background check.
Now, it addresses potential witnesses. So even a tow truck driver who responds to an accident scene could be identified as a “witness” and have their personal information exposed to a criminal defendant.
“The consequence of it was never felt because they generally wouldn’t have to testify, and we wouldn’t have had to turn it over unless they were being called to testify,” said Tony Jordan, Washington County District Attorney. “There is some anxiety about it. Understandably, people are concerned.”
As we previously reported, in addition to the disclosure requirements, the series of laws requires judges to release people who are charged with misdemeanors and “nonviolent’ felonies without bail, and issue an appearance ticket, tantamount to a traffic citation.
The law also requires that anyone currently incarcerated who is being held on said misdemeanors and “non-violent” felonies must be released when the law goes into effect. It’s kind of like a Monopoly “get out of jail free” card.
Criticism of the new measures has been far and wide, ranging from police officers to prosecutors, town and city officials, and mostly Republican legislators. One Democrat, however, has been particularly vocal in his opposition to the new regulations.
Freshman Congressman Max Rose joined Republicans in criticizing the new requirements, saying that they went “too far, too fast.”
“We can and we must ensure our justice system is fair and maintains our public safety—but the fact is with the bail and discovery reforms Albany went too far, too fast,” Rose said in a statement.
“That’s why I’m joining law enforcement and bipartisan colleagues from across the state in calling for quick action in Albany to ensure the safety of our communities—and especially the victims of these crimes—are not put in jeopardy.”
As a US Congressman, Rose has no jurisdiction over the state’s criminal justice system. However, Rose joined three other Republican Congressmen—Tom Reed, Peter King and Elise Stefanik—in expressing concerns over the reforms in a written letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“While we agree criminal justice reform has long been needed around the country, New York State’s new soft-on-crime bail laws, which will let dangerous criminals roam free, endanger their victims and hamstring the authorities who want to hold them accountable, this is not the answer,” the congressmen said in a letter.
According to Breitbart, among the crimes where suspects will be freed from custody before trial are:
- Second-degree manslaughter
- Aggravated vehicular assault
- Third-degree assault
- Promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child
- Possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child
- Promoting a sexual performance by a child
- Failure to register as a sex offender
- Making terroristic threats
- Criminally negligent homicide
- Aggravated vehicular homicide
Non-violent crimes? Recently the suspect in the aforementioned accident in Warren County New York was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter. He allegedly struck a bystander while leading police on a high-speed chase. He is currently in jail awaiting trial however in January, he will be a free man pending that trial when the new bail guidelines go into effect.
Criminals have gotten so bold as to thank Cuomo for signing the “jailbreak” legislation, according to the New York Daily News. “Cuomo for president!” the accused drug dealer shouted in Spanish. The man allegedly had caused the death of a man who overdosed on drugs sold to him by the dealer’s crew.
This nonsensical “reform” movement has not been restricted to New York. On a federal level, the First Step Act that was signed into law by President Trump has freed hundreds of criminals charged with sex crimes, nearly 60 convicted murderers and assailants, and almost 1,000 individuals charged with drug crimes.
Joel Francisco is among those released under the First Step Act. Who is he? Well, he’s the former leader of the “Latin Kings” gang who, as soon as he was released, returned to a life of drugs and one other thing. He now stands accused of murder.
I don’t think anyone believes that someone who has a low-level drug beef, such as possession of marijuana, should be locked up in jail. It isn’t a violent crime and so long as the marijuana is being consumed for private use and not being sold on the street, it’s not that big a deal.
But when you are talking crimes of violence, sex crimes involving children, and threatening to commit terrorism, one must wonder what these legislators, and President Trump are thinking.
We will keep following this story because once Jan 1 rolls around, it is quite likely that we will have more than enough horror stories to inform you on.
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