Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thirteen-year-old Wildwood police video not disclosable.

I found an unpublished, April 21, 2011 decision by Judge Nelson C. Johnson in the case of City of Wildwood v. Cape May County, Docket No. CPM-L-656-10, concerning the City's request for disclosure of a videotape taken at the Wildwood Police Department on December 10, 2000.

The videotape caught an incident that Wildwood Police Sergeant (now Captain) Robert N. Regalbuto had with an arrestee identified only by his initials, B.L.C.  According to the court's decision, neither the Wildwood Police nor Cape May County Prosecutor's Office, after review of the video, brought charges or imposed discipline against Regalbuto.

Nearly ten years after the incident, the City became interested in the video because of "alleged incidents of police abuse" and "selective enforcement" claimed by attorneys for former Wildwood Police Sergeant David Romeo who was previously convicted of official misconduct for kicking two handcuffed suspects while they were lying on the ground.  The City submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the video.  The Cape May County Prosecutor's office, claiming that the video was a "criminal investigatory record" blocked release and took custody of the video.  Even though the Prosecutor refused to allow the City to have a copy of the video, he did offer the City an opportunity to view the video at the Prosecutor's office.

In sum, Judge Nelson C. Johnson found that a) the video was exempt under OPRA as a "criminal investigatory record," and b) that the City's interest in obtaining a copy of the video, especially in light of the fact that City official were permitted to view it, did not exceed the Prosecutor's need for confidentiality.

More information and a copy of the court's opinion are available here.