SJC: BOSTON GLOBE MEDIA PARTNERS v. DEPT. of CRIMINAL JUSTICE INFORMATION SERVICES

KeywordsPublic Records. Criminal Offender Record Information. State Police. Police, Records. Municipal Corporations, Police, Public record. Privacy

[Excerpt] – “In the summer of 2012, the State police arrested a Barnstable law enforcement officer for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence.  The State police arrested a Tewksbury police officer for the same offense in August 2014.  Following this second incident, a reporter for Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC (Globe), made public records requests to the State police, seeking booking photographs and police incident reports related to the arrests.  The State police refused to comply with the requests, claiming that the records were “criminal offender record information” (CORI), as defined in G. L. c. 6, § 167, and therefore were not “public records,” as defined in G. L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth, because they were “specifically or by necessary implication exempted from disclosure by statute.”  The Globe also requested a police incident report involving an investigation into whether a District Court judge had taken another passenger’s watch from a bin at a security checkpoint at Logan International Airport.  The State police denied that request on the same basis.

“In addition, the Globe made a public records request to the Boston police department for, among other things, the names of officers charged with driving under the influence, as well as the related booking photographs and incident reports.  The Boston police department withheld the records on the same grounds as the State police had.  The Globe appealed all of these denials to the supervisor of records (supervisor) in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who upheld the law enforcement agencies’ decisions in each case.

“In May 2015, the Globe brought suit against the State police, the Boston police department, and the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS), among others (collectively, law enforcement agencies), seeking a judgment declaring that the requested records must be disclosed under the public records law.  On cross motions for summary judgment, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Globe and declared that booking photographs of police officers arrested for alleged crimes and police incident reports involving public officials were not exempt from disclosure under the public records law.  The law enforcement agencies appealed, and a single justice of the Appeals Court stayed the judgment “insomuch as the judgment requires the named defendants to provide access to the records that are the subject of this action CORI.”  We transferred the appeal to this court on our own motion.  For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judge’s decision, albeit on different grounds.”

Click here for the full text of the SJC’s decision.

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