NEW BEDFORD — The state supervisor of records has again determined the City of New Bedford has not met its burden in withholding requested records related to alleged police misconduct.
An attorney with the city solicitor’s office earlier this month said the city would be withholding the records in full, after the office assessed and accepted payment from The Light to process its public records request. The records sought by The Light include an investigation report that was submitted to the city this year on allegations against a New Bedford police officer.
Specifically, the city solicitor’s office cited “exemption (c)” under Massachusetts public records law, termed the “privacy exemption,” that applies to personnel and disciplinary reports. However, the secretary of state’s public records division notes police misconduct records do not fall under that exemption.
Under state law, the onus is on the custodian of records (in this case, the city) to establish why the exemption applies to the withheld or redacted portions of the responsive records.
“The public has a recognized interest in knowing whether public servants are carrying out their duties in a law abiding and efficient manner … In this case, the City has not met [its] burden in responding to [Light reporter Anastasia] Lennon’s request,” wrote Manza Arthur, the state supervisor of records, in her determination.
“Specifically, where the request involves records of investigations into the conduct of a police officer, it is unclear how Exemption (c) could apply to withhold or redact any of the requested records,” Arthur continued. “The City has not shown how the requested records are not ‘records related to a law enforcement misconduct investigation.’”
The Light paid $134 for the records, a fee the city assessed and accepted in April.
“Once fees are paid, a records custodian must provide the responsive records,” Arthur wrote.
When the city responded to The Light’s request, it did not provide any records, not even in redacted form: “… the City has verified that these materials, in full, qualify as personnel files in the form of a disciplinary report; as such, the City is withholding these materials,” wrote a city attorney in the initial response.
The Light last week asked Judith Keating, head of the personnel department, what the outcome of the investigation into the officer was, given the city has not released the requested report. She said she had no comment and that she would not discuss confidential employee matters.
The city has 10 business days from May 25 to provide a response consistent with the supervisor’s order and Massachusetts public records law.
In a response to a request for comment, city spokesperson Holly Huntoon said by email that the solicitor’s office is reviewing the supervisor’s letter.
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to our sponsors
Founding benefactors: Joan and Irwin Jacobs fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, Mary and Jim Ottaway
For questions about donations, contact Chrystal Walsh, director of advancement, at email@example.com.
For questions about sponsoring The Light, contact Peter Andrews, director of business development and community engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.