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NJ High Court Favors Release of Some Police Discipline Records

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the internal affairs report that led to the resignation of Elizabeth’s police director three years ago should be released and gave guidance on how courts should handle future requests for documents that have long been cloaked in confidentiality. The high court, in a 6-0 decision, said such reports are not disclosable under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) but they “can and should” be disclosed under common law when public interest outweighs confidentiality concerns, reports CJ Griffin, an attorney who argued the case, said it’s a landmark decision, and while New Jersey still lags behind others in public disclosure, “This is a tremendous advance in transparency.”

The case concerned James Cosgrove, the ex-Elizabeth police director who resigned in 2019, shortly after an internal affairs investigation found he used racial and sexist slurs against staffers for years, and called Black and female employees the n-word and c-word. He’d been the civilian director for just over 20 years following a 31-career as a Newark police officer. Former New Jersey police officer and open public records advocate Richard Rivera requested the Cosgrove report. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office denied the requests, citing confidentiality of witnesses’ expectation of privacy and their ability to conduct future, similar investigations. The Supreme Court sided with common law disclosure, but the decision is not a blanket for any such report to be issued by a New Jersey police department.


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