TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling Tuesday, saying that dashboard-camera video and other information related to a fatal 2014 shooting of a suspect by police should be released in a case widely watched by government transparency advocates.
The court overturned a lower appeals court decision, ruling that the town of Lyndhurst should have released video and use of force reports after a request from the North Jersey Media Group, following the shooting after a high-speed chase involving a stolen car.
The judges said that dashboard footage can “inform the public’s strong interest” in the fatal police shooting without “undermining the integrity of an investigation.”
The court agreed that some other investigative reports from the shooting — which a grand jury determined was justified — did not need to be released.
“I think it’s the most significant OPRA decision in decades,” Jennifer Borg, who served as NJMG’s general counsel when her family owned the newspaper and filed the original request for the information, said of the state’s open public records act law. “I’m really thrilled that our highest court recognized an overwhelming interest in transparency when police use deadly force.”
State lawyers had argued disclosing the records would place the state on a “slippery slope” that could lead to many other types of confidential information being released. They said that releasing the video and officers’ names could put an officer in danger.
The Lyndhurst case has been frequently cited by the state as a reason not to release information during police investigations. The opinion said that the video should be released under the common law right of access and not through the OPRA.
Public access lawyer CJ Griffin called the decision that requires the release of use of force reports including a law enforcement officer’s name a “landmark win for transparency”
“This changes the landscapes and restores transparency over the use of force,” she said.
The Associated Press was among the group of media organizations that filed an amicus brief in the case.