Monday, November 17, 2014

New Jersey Superior Court Rules Police Dashboard Video Recordings are Public Records

A New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled in two separate cases police dashboard video recordings are public records subject to disclosure under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act. In his most recent decision, the judge ordered the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office to disclose a police dash-camera video depicting a police officer's use of a police dog during an arrest. The court found the video was not an exempt "criminal investigatory record," and disclosure did not violate the motorist's privacy rights.

The video shows an officer's use of a police dog during a vehicle stop arrest. The officer has been charged with aggravated assault and official misconduct. Plaintiff John Paff requested a copy of the video from the Prosecutor's Office on May 20, 2014. The Prosecutor's Office denied Paff's request arguing the videos were exempt from disclosure because they were criminal investigatory records.

The court ruled the Prosecutor's Office must disclose the video. He found the "ongoing investigation exception" does not apply because the video was made before the investigation began. This exception does not retroactively render public documents confidential once an investigation starts. Also, since police agencies require regular recording of law enforcement activities, the video constitutes a government record rather than a "criminal investigatory record." And disclosure does not harm the motorist's privacy rights because the incident occurred in a public place, and her face cannot be seen in the video.

The Ocean County Prosecutor's office plans to appeal the rulings. Releasing such videos may taint the jury pool preventing defendants from receiving a fair trial. In addition, the outcome of these cases may spur litigation under public records laws in other states.