Mr. Rivera requested, under both OPRA and the common law, internal affairs reports related to the case of Elizabeth Police Director Cosgrove’s use of racist and sexist slurs to describe his subordinates. The trial court allowed redacted reports to be released under OPRA and, therefore, did not reach the common law analysis. The Appellate Division reversed the holding as to OPRA. Then, without allowing the Plaintiff to explain why he wanted the records and without reviewing the specific records to see whether they revealed the identity of the complainant or complainants, the Court held that access could be denied under the common law. The Court reasoned that internal affairs records usually reveal who made the complaint.
The ACLU-NJ's brief explains that courts should not engage in speculation, but should review actual records. Moreover, the court below gave too much weight to the general interest in secrecy, without determining whether the need for secrecy existed in this case or whether the countervailing societal interest in learning about racism and sexism among police executives nonetheless favored disclosure.