9/8/2017New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Public Right To Cop Dashcam Video
Appellate court in New Jersey upholds the right of the public to see videos from police dashcams.
New Jersey residents have a right to see the videos recorded by police dashboard cameras under a state appellate court ruling handed down last week. The case was filed by Rabbi Shabsi Ganzweig, a resident of Lakewood and a volunteer chaplain at a police department in another community, who tried to get his hands on a video that would shed light on whether Lakewood Officer Jeremy Felder was being unfairly charged with misconduct. Felder found himself in hot water after falsifying a police report about an August 31, 2013 traffic stop.
Ganzweig wanted to see for himself what happened that day, as Officer Felder stopped a car that had allegedly made an illegal left turn. While the officer let the car go, Felder said he became suspicious that the driver and passenger had given him phony names. So he stopped them again.
During the second stop, Officer Felder searched the car and turned up a drugs, but the Ocean County Prosector's Office charged the officer with doctoring evidence to hide an illegal search.
Rather than hand over the tapes from the two squad cars that were on the scene, the prosecutor's office resisted. The four-year legal battle racked up $21,800 in legal fees for Rabbi Ganzweig, which a lower court ordered the prosecutor's office to pay.
The appellate panel decided to send that decision on costs back to the lower court for a second look, but the judges upheld the main thrust of the original ruling regarding the right of public access to such information.
"It could well be argued that the public's legitimate interest in how its police officers conduct themselves constitutes a 'particular interest' in the information, well beyond that of idle curiosity, requiring disclosure under the common law," the appellate judges ruled. "Rather than militate towards secrecy, the public interest in an investigation into police malfeasance may well support disclosure."
The prosecutors pointed out that the police officer's internal affairs investigation remains an ongoing matter, and the public records act gives authorities the power to withhold information pertaining to ongoing investigations. The judges were not persuaded, noting that prosecutors offered nothing but "generalities" regarding the potential harm that might come from disclosure.
"That an internal affairs investigation is ongoing is not necessarily grounds to deny access when the incident is already public and resulted in the dismissal of a criminal indictment against two individuals," the appellate court ruled.
Felder was forced to resign in September 2015 and was given a year of probation. The appellate court ordered the lower court judge to further develop the record in the case as the state Supreme Court is expected to rule on a similar case soon.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.