After a June 30 ruling by a New Jersey appeals court, police dashboard camera recordings are considered documents that must be released under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
Appellate Division Judges Jose Fuentas and John Kennedy affirmed Ocean County Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso’s decision to make a police dash cam recording public. The ruling came at the request of open-government activist John Paff, and involved a Barnegat Police Department incident from January 29, 2014. Paff is known for pursuing public records cases throughout New Jersey.
The incident involved a Tuckerton police officer who, after attempting to stop a driver, was led on a chase that ended in Barnegat. The driver was charged with eluding, but the officer was charged with assault and misuse of a police dog following an incident that was caught on Barnegat cameras.
Paff moved to have the recordings made public, but the driver objected over privacy reasons. Grasso ruled that the recordings should be released, stating that they were public records. The case was then taken to the appeals court, where Grasso’s decision was affirmed in a divided ruling.
Appellate Division Judge Robert Gilson dissented, writing for the minority in Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor's Office that, “I disagree. I would reverse the order of the Law Division and hold that the MVR recordings in this case are exempt as criminal investigatory records.”
Kennedy, who wrote for the majority, quoted the state Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in Times of Trenton v. Lafayette Yards, saying that, “The purpose of OPRA is to maximize public knowledge about public affairs in order to ensure an informed citizenry and to minimize the evil inherent in a secluded process.”
He said that, because the dash cam recordings were automatically made when Barnegat officers turned on their vehicle’s overhead lights, the record was clear and that the recordings were not contemplated as part of a criminal investigation.
Because this is a divided ruling in a published decision, the state Supreme Court is guaranteed to review the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, or the state, which participated as amicus.
At Levinson Axelrod, P.A., our New Jersey attorneys seek out every piece of evidence when handling a client’s case. If you were injured and are in need of legal assistance, contact our personal injury lawyers today to request your free case consultation.