Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bill late last week to bring arrest details to light as part of the state’s sunshine law ensuring public access to government records and proceedings.
The new provisions in Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act reverse limits set almost one year ago in a state Supreme Court decision that effectively exempted police from having to disclose arrest information.
The state Supreme Court interpreted existing statute to mean police must release little more than basic “police blotter” information while a criminal case is pending. But it also acknowledged the “numerous salutary effects” of disclosing information that gives the public a clearer picture of the circumstances surrounding an arrest. It specifically mentioned the prevention of harassment and discrimination as benefits of greater disclosure.
The court said it is the legislature’s job to “modify or clarify” the statute to enhance access to public documents.
Malloy’s signature is the final endorsement of efforts by Government Administration and Elections Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, who brokered a compromise between the Freedom of Information Commission and the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney.
Malloy Spokesman Devon Puglia said the governor’s administration believes deeply in transparency — “and as we continue to drive down crime to historic lows as we work with police and communities across the state, we believe more information rather than less should be available.”
The law requires the release of an arrest affidavit or, if no affidavit exists or if it is sealed, a summary of the events leading up to the arrest.
It also opens up “any other public record of a law enforcement agency that documents or depicts the arrest or custody of a person” while a criminal case is ongoing — unless the documents are subject to any of eight existing exemptions.
Those records include police body camera footage. Lawmakers passed a bill last week requiring body cameras for all sworn officers of the Connecticut State Police and state university system. It also relies on $15 million in bond funding to provide body cameras for municipal police departments that apply for the grants. The legislation says the cameras must be used whenever officers are interacting with the public on the job.
Known as the “excessive force” bill, the measure encourages greater police accountability through training, recruitment, and public scrutiny. While it specifies certain circumstances during which the body cameras should be turned off — such as encounters with undercover officers, informants, or people undergoing medical or psychological evaluations, procedures, or treatment — it says all recordings are disclosable unless they “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
That leaves police able to record domestic violence or sexual abuse situations as well as victims of homicide, suicide, or accidents even though the footage could be withheld from the public.
Members of the law enforcement community had questioned previous versions of the bill that would have required police to turn off the cameras in cases of domestic violence. They said failing to record such volatile situations would undermine the intent of the bill since family disputes are some of the most dangerous situations an officer experiences.
The most recent report on an investigation into a fatal shooting by a police officer was released in May. State’s Attorney David Shepack of the Judicial District of Litchfield cleared four Bridgeport police officers in the killing of Carnell Williams, 23, while they attempted to arrest him through an undercover gun buy. The investigation lasted just shy of 18 months.
One of the officers, Det. Christopher Borona, was also cleared of any wrongdoing in the death of 21-year-old Bryan Stukes, which occurred the same year as the Williams shooting. The investigation through the office of State’s Attorney David I. Cohen of the Judicial District of Norwalk/Stamford took about 15 months. Courthouse News Service reports that Stukes’ family has filed a civil lawsuit claiming the fleeing man was shot in the back after he’d already been shot in the legs and dropped his gun.
An officer is justified in shooting someone if prosecutors find the officer “reasonably believes” he must kill or be killed, according to statute.
Out of the 33 cases listed in the Division of Criminal Justice’s Deadly Force Reports Index since 2001, police officers have been cleared of wrongdoing in every shooting but one.
According to the Associated Press, an all-white Hartford Superior Court jury deliberated for several days before returning the verdict in favor of Ofc. Robert Lawlor, who killed 18-year-old Jashon Bryant and injured 21-year-old Brandon Henry in 2005.