Hearing Officer: Derby Violated FOI Act

A hearing officer with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission determined the Derby Police Department and the City of Derby violated state open government laws by refusing to release an internal affairs report because the subject of the investigation objected.

The hearing officer’s report will now be the subject of a disposition hearing in front of the full Freedom of Information Commission at 2 p.m. Oct. 10 in Hartford. If the hearing officer’s report is accepted, the city must release the report.

Background

Derby Police Officer Jordan Gochros was charged with three misdemeanors in August 2017 after allegedly hitting his girlfriend. He was suspended without pay.

The arrest triggered an internal affairs investigation. Gochros resigned from the department in January and the city paid him $4,500.

In January, The Valley Indy requested the Derby Police Department provide a copy of an internal affairs compiled against Gochros.

The department asked Gochros if the document could be released. He objected on privacy grounds.

The department refused to release the report, citing Gochros’ objection.

The Valley Indy filed a Freedom of Information complaint.

A hearing on the complaint was held April 9 in front of hearing officer Paula S. Pearlman. At that hearing, a lawyer representing the city said the government was willing to release the report, but did not do so because the officer objected. That’s not how the law works.

Pearlman issued a report Sept. 18 saying the Derby Police Department and the City of Derby violated the FOI Act by not releasing the internal affairs report.

The government erred by transferring the responsibility of fulfilling the request to the officer.

Pearlman cited state law explaining the process the police department or the city should have followed, which included:

  • Determining whether the requested documents were public (they were)
  • Determining whether the documents constituted an invasion of privacy, and, if so, explaining why. If the documents did not represent an invasion of privacy (the report was not an invasion of privacy), then the report should have been released.

In this case, Derby should have released the report over the objection of the officer.

“It is concluded, therefore, that the respondents violated 1-210(a) G.S. by failing to disclose the requested records,” Pearlman wrote.

She ordered the city to release the internal affairs report with a few agreed upon redactions, and to properly follow the process outlined in state law.

Derby has the option to offer an argument at the Oct. 10 full commission meeting. The city also has the right to appeal the decision to a court of law.

The city lost a similar FOI case involving an employee’s disciplinary report in 2012.

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