Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Court orders Warren County municipality to disclose dashcam video of police chief's motor vehicle stop.

Update: The Township released the video shortly after this blog post was published.  The video is on-line here.
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On October 1, 2019, New Jersey Superior Court Assignment Judge Yolanda Ciccone issued a court order compelling Independence Township (Warren County) to disclose "the [police] dashcam audio and video recordings of" a motor vehicle stop of Keith P. Aiello, the Township's police chief.  The court order arose out of Libertarians for Transparent Government (LFTG) v. Independence Township, et al, Docket No. WRN-L-235-19 which sought disclosure of the dashcam recordings under both the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access.  I serve as LFTG's executive director.  The case's complaint and brief are on-line here and here.

According to official documents, Independence police received a report at 2:17 a.m. on February 20, 2019 that a vehicle, which was later determined to have been driven by Chief Aiello, was "on and off the roadway," "swerving," "blew through a stop sign" and had "sideswiped a guardrail."  A box on the crash report described Aiello's "apparent physical status" at the time of the incident as "alcohol use." (See paragraph 17 of the complaint, linked above.)  No field sobriety tests were administered and no summonses were issued.

On April 19, 2019, LFTG submitted its OPRA request for records, including the dashcam recordings, relating to the incident.  The Township provided LFTG with some of the requested records but, in its April 29, 2019 response, claimed that the dashcam recordings were exempt as a "criminal investigatory record."

Judge Ciccone has not yet issued a written decision explaining the legal basis for her ruling.  In addition to ordering the Township to produce the video, she also ordered it to pay LFTG's court costs and attorney fees.

LFTG is being represented by Walter M. Luers of Clinton.

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