Friday, March 23, 2012

State police claim a bare bones press release is enough

The Connecticut State Police have gone to great lengths at taxpayers’ expense to try to control the future release of information about their cases.
The state Appellate Court is considering a Freedom of Information case which stems from a near fatal attack on Route 8 in Derby.
The court heard arguments in the case in November, but hasn’t issued any ruling.
The New Haven Register had lodged a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission after state police refused to release a police report on the incident, in which Toai Nguyen nearly killed his father on Route 8 in 2008. The commission sided with the New Haven Register. Read that decision here. The Department of Public Safety appealed to the Superior Court, and Judge Henry Cohn, a former assistant attorney general, sided with the state police, who were represented by Stephen Sarnoski, a current assistant attorney general. The New Haven Register and Freedom of Information Commission have appealed Cohn’s ruling to the Appellate Court. Whatever the outcome, the case is likely headed to the state Supreme Court.
The New Haven Register eventually received the police report, but it took several months. In 2010, Nguyen, an undocumented immigrant, was arrested for allegedly stabbing his sister. Nguyen’s court case in the stabbing incident is still pending in Superior Court in Milford.
Read New Haven Register editorials about the battle for the documents here:

EDITORIAL: State police stonewall on vicious beating
Published: Monday, March 30, 2009
The state police really don’t like the public looking over their shoulders. They are willing to throw up a legal fog for months to prevent release of the most basic information about their work. Take, for example, the arrest of Toai Nguyen, 35, of 59 Grove St., Shelton, in March 2008. State police charged Nguyen with first-degree assault on an elderly person and criminal attempt to commit murder. Nguyen allegedly severely beat a passenger in his car while on Route 8.
Read the full editorial here.

EDITORIAL: Court sides with cops to stifle information
Published: Wednesday, June 02, 2010
There is something fundamentally wrong with the state’s position that it does not have to disclose relevant facts of timely public interest in a criminal arrest. In the case of a Shelton man arrested March 15, 2008, the Freedom of Information Commission agreed. The bare bones press release from the state police identified Toai Nguyen, the charges against him, the date, time and place of his arrest, as well as a brief description of the incident. But, it left out crucial details like the name of the victim, the hospital where he was taken, his injuries or the weapon used in the assault.
Read the full editorial here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

FOI Commission considering case involving Derby employee

The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission is considering a complaint by the New Haven Register against the city of Derby.
A hearing on the case took place in Hartford on Feb. 7, and a hearing officer will issue a proposed final decision in the coming weeks. The full commission will then review it.
The Register requested documents in August 2011 regarding disciplinary action taken against city public works employee Shaun Wheeler, for allegedly providing free paint striping at a business, Raro Motor Car LLC, in which the principal of the company is a Derby police officer and chairman of the Derby Parking Authority, John Dorosh.
Wheeler was given a one day unpaid suspension, and agreed to compensate the city $37 for the use of the paint.
In an email to the Register dated October 6, 2011, Derby Corporation Counsel Joseph Coppola refused to release the record, citing Wheeler’s objection. Coppola further indicated, “Based on the circumstances the information you seek is ‘highly offensive to a reasonable person.’”
The Register filed a formal complaint against Derby on Oct. 6, 2011, asserting that the public has a right to know information about a city employee’s discipline, and this is a legitimate matter of public concern.
Read stories from the New Haven Register that ran on Aug. 31, 2011 and Sept. 2, 2011, here and here.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Register Citizen: Torrington police memo-ries

The key to any good FOI result is paying attention and staying patient... It also helps to have a leak.

When former Torrington police officer Hector Medina was arrested on Feb. 8, 2012 for misusing police databases, it opened a can of worms that none of us saw coming. Medina's arrest sparked the community to ask a question: Why was he making these alleged "phantom stops"?

Twenty-nine different victims said Medina had never pulled them over, but he reported these stops as part of his "one-stop quota," as the community began to call it. Come to find out, the police department -- much like any other department --
Read more »

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Requests for records, reasons for denial

An interactive explaining the number of accepted and denied Freedom of Information Act requests for government agencies, and the various reasons for denial.

Litchfield County Times uses FOI request to obtain settlement agreement

The Litchfield County Times on Thursday morning was able to get a copy of a settlement agreement between the town of New Milford and a police officer who was fired and filed a $10 million lawsuit against the town under the Freedom of Information Act, according to Executive Editor Doug Clement.

"The story helped us inform the public that the town did not get taken to the cleaners," Clement says. "Important information for taxpayers -- and, notably, information town officials could not announce, as they are under a gag order."

The County Times received the documents almost immediately after asking for them Thursday, Clement says.
"The mayor of New Milford is pretty savvy," he says. "She was very cooperative."


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sunshine Week and a new FOI committee

Anyone in Connecticut can walk into a government office and ask to see a copy of a public document. But not everyone knows that. And not everyone knows what constitutes a public document, or what agency to approach to get it.

In honor of Sunshine Week this week, a national project by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, staff from the New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen have formed an informal Freedom of Information Committee.

Sunshine Week is meant to get people talking about government transparency and inform the public about their right to obtain information. And with the help of this committee, we are hoping to do just that.

This blog is a first step to increase communication about open records and the Freedom of Information Act. Here we will post updates about what we are working on and solicit ideas for what we should dedicate our resources to.

Our goal is to be transparent about the entire process we go through when requesting documents, and we hope to share several of the situations we are going through or have gone through in the past when filing Freedom of Information requests.

To get better at keeping track of requests, following up on them and holding departments accountable for fulfilling them, our entire Connecticut cluster of newspapers will use a common Google spreadsheet listing all the requests we make and whether they have been fulfilled. This document will be available to the public right here on this blog, so anyone can see what we are asking for and whether we actually got it.

We will also be giving out “sunshines” to departments based on how quickly they fulfilled a request for information, whether the information was what we asked for and whether they were able to give it electronically. The scale will be from 1-5 sunshines with 5 being the best. The criteria will be posted right here on this blog, and we will hopefully be able to present it on a map as well.

Finally, the FOI committee will be in charge of setting up classes for the staff and the public on Freedom of Information and open records. We hope to have the first class set up for late April. If you are interested in participating as a speaker, guest or just have questions in general, please feel free to email us at

Committee members include Middletown Press Editor Viktoria Sundqvist (@vsundqvist), Register Citizen reporter Ricky Campbell (@RickyCampbellRC), New Haven Register Community Engagement Editor Angi Carter (@ReachAngi), New Haven Register reporter Alex Sanders (@ASanders88), New Haven Register sports reporter Chris Hunn (@Chris_Hunn), Investigations Editor Michelle Tuccitto Sullo (@NHRinvestigate), Topics Editor Mary O’Leary (@nhrmoleary), Asst. Managing Editor for Disruption Chris March (@LouderCMarch) and Graphics Mastermind Ann Dallas (@NHRdallas).

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Connecticut Freedom of Information Act

Here is a shareable and printable copy of Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act. The official record is available through the Connecticut State Law Libraries.

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