posted on February 09, 2012 13:19
In response to a WBTA News investigation into the summer 2011 shooting death of David Grove, the State's Committee on Open Government has issued its opinion: Albion Police are violating the Freedom of Information Act by not releasing their investigation materials.
The opinion was issued to WBTA News and to Albion Police Thursday. In it, the committee's executive director, Robert Freeman, states that significant portions of police records relating to David Grove's death must be disclosed to comply with law.
"The Village has engaged in a 'blanket denial' of access, in a manner which in my view, is inappropriate," says Freeman in his report.
The Village of Albion and its police department have denied access and twice denied appeals by WBTA News, on the grounds that evidence and investigation materials into the death of David Grove were entered at a grand jury hearing, where a "no bill" was returned – meaning no one was charged. The Village points out that grand jury participants and related testimony are protected from public disclosure, except by court order.
However, not all police investigation materials gathered prior to a grand jury hearing are exempted from disclosure. WBTA News took the position that materials not disclosed to the grand jury, and those not directly related to grand jury testimony, should be released. Freeman agrees.
"Other records that were not submitted to the grand jury, i.e. relating to witnesses, persons interviewed, evidence collected, etc...would not be subject to the secrecy requirement," he states.
Freeman goes on to advise that other justifications from Albion Police, are equally invalid.
"The initial basis for denial offered by the Village, section 160.50 of the criminal procedure law... is inapplicable," Freeman states. That section of law says when a person is charge with a crimes, and charges are later dropped, the investigation records should be sealed.
But, as Freeman points out, no one was ever charged with a crime in David Grove's death.
"Those sealing requirements...would not be relevant," says Freeman. "I agree that identities of witnesses, suspects, informants, etc. may be withheld. Those aspects...may be deleted, but the remainder of those records must be disclosed."
The Village also invoked section 87(2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Law, which exempts information when it "would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Freeman says under this statute, the Village may not withhold all materials; rather, they ought to strike the names from the materials, but still release them.
"In short, factual information found within materials, that would not be exempt (because of) grand jury...would in my view be accessible, except to that extent that names or other identifying details may be redacted," states Freeman in his conclusion.
The findings presented to WBTA News have also been forwarded to the Village of Albion and its police department. They are not bound by this report to release materials; however, the report indicates that the Village may be very vulnerable should the Freedom of Information case go before a judge.
View the State Committee on Open Government report here