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Disclosure of Police Records and Footage

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In New Jersey Media Group v. Township of Lyndhurst, the Supreme Court of New Jersey explored the scope of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) exemptions for criminal investigatory records and ongoing investigation records, as well as the common law right of access. In September 2014, Kashad Ashford was shot and killed after leading police on a high speed chase. Reporters from The Record and The South Bergentine submitted an OPRA request to the township of Lyndhurst for police records and recordings related to the incident. Their request was denied on the grounds of the ongoing criminal investigation exception. The trial court held that the records did not fall under the exception and must be disclosed. The Appellate Division affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that certain administrative records should be disclosed but that other investigatory records should not be. On appeal to the Supreme Court was whether Use of Force Reports, police dash cam footage and investigatory reports were exempt from disclosure.

The Supreme Court held that the Use of Force Reports and the dash cam footage should be disclosed in this case, but the investigatory reports were exempt. In analyzing the Use of Force Reports, the Court held that no exception applied because the reports were required by law to be made and the information they contained did not pose a risk to the integrity of the investigation. However, the investigatory reports contained potentially harmful summaries of undisclosed facts and witness statements. While the Court held that the threat to the investigation posed by such records decreases as time passes and the investigation concludes, in this case they posed a great risk to the integrity of the police investigation and did not have to be turned over. Lastly, the Court made the important ruling that the criminal records exception to OPRA applies to dash cam footage, however, the Court ruled in favor of disclosure under the common law right of access, since the benefit to the public in having access to this footage outweighed the small risk the videos posed to the investigation.

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