Pawtucket Police sued over failure to release records
By Alana Cerrone
PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WLNE) - In a case they say has important ramifications the way the public monitors law enforcement, the RI ACLU announces it's suing the Pawtucket Police Department
"Pawtucket and other police departments, with the blessing of the Attorney General, who is supposedly responsible for enforcing the open records law, are now really just pulling excuses out of thin air."
The lawsuit was filed by Dimitri Lyssikatos, who was turned down when he requested records from the Pawtucket Police Department.
Both he and Lynn Farinelli, of the Rhode Island Accountability Project, had previously filed complaints against the Pawtucket Police, but were denied access to the department's Internal Affairs investigation.
"My son passed away 3 years ago. The Pawtucket Police department didn't do an investigation in my son's death. They denied me access to find out if there was any kind of accountability within the department."
According to the Rhode Island Accountability Project, several local departments are in violation of the open records act, including Pawtucket.
But Pawtucket claims they only have to hand over records generated by citizens’ complaints, not ones initiated internally, an argument some say has no merit.
"Doing so simply confirms the public suspicion that the police operate behind closed doors."
The lawsuit also points fingers at Attorney General Peter Kilmartin for allowing it to happen.
"It’s very disappointing when the agency that's supposed to be carrying the flag for open records seems to go out of its way sometimes to encourage police departments and others to hide records."
In response, Mayor Don Grebien’s spokesperson says:
“We respect the role that the ACLU plays in advocating for the rights of individuals. The City continues to be open and transparent in its handling of requests and complaints, and seeks to provide as much information as possible, while balancing the rights of victims, families, and personnel. We look forward to learning the details of the case.”
The Attorney General’s Office issued a lengthy statement, saying in part:
"...city and towns evaluate APRA requests internally with their own legal counsel and make decisions as to what documents are made public. The Attorney General's Office has no role in that part of the process...the ACLU once again is mixing a heavy dose of innuendo with the law in an attempt to reach a self-serving political outcome. While we can hope to have a healthy and respectful debate about the requirements of the APRA with the ACLU and others, as the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Providence Journal v. Rhode Island State Police demonstrates, the ACLU’s interpretation of the law is not always correct."
The Pawtucket Police Department did not respond to our request for comment.