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ACLU Files Suit to Obtain Central Falls Police Shooting Records

Posted: May 03, 2007|Category: Open Government Category: Police Practices

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The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed an open records lawsuit against the Central Falls Police Department in order to obtain documents concerning the fatal shooting by police last month of city resident Selvin Garrido, who was killed when police came to his apartment in response to a 911 call. Garrido was shot after allegedly coming at police with a knife in his hand.

In a letter denying the ACLU access to the incident report, including the names of the officers involved in the shooting, Central Falls police chief Joseph Moran III stated that its release “would interfere with enforcement proceedings, namely, the Grand Jury proceedings, and would also interfere with an impartial adjudication, namely, the police officer(s) involved in the fatal shooting of Selvin Garrido.”

However, the lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorney Howard Merten, a partner with Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP, argues that the requested documents are clearly public records under the state’s Access to Public Records Act. The suit notes that the fact of a grand jury investigation is irrelevant because the open records law specifically provides that public records “shall continue to be so deemed whether or not subsequent … investigations are held pertaining to the matters contained in the record.”

The suit also points out that in the past, the Central Falls Police Department has promptly released incident reports and the names of private individuals involved in shooting or stabbing incidents in that city, including individuals who undoubtedly faced the prospect of ongoing enforcement proceedings, Grand Jury proceedings, and who might otherwise also have interest in future impartial adjudications.” The suit notes that throughout Rhode Island, “other cities and towns have promptly released the names of police officers involved in shooting incidents.” The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the police department to release the records and also seeks imposition of a $1,000 fine as authorized by the open records statute.

RI ACLU volunteer attorney Merten said today: “This kind of information has been routinely and promptly disclosed by police departments around the state, and even by the Central Falls Police Department, itself.  The police report should be made public.  Prompt and consistent public disclosure is the most effective means of ensuring confidence in the actions of public officials.”

The Affiliate filed a similar lawsuit against the Pawtucket Police Department in 1997, after that agency refused to release information about an incident where police shot and killed a local resident. Just a few days after that suit was filed, Department officials released the information to the ACLU upon the advice of then-Attorney General Jeffrey Pine.

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