The ACLU-NJ saw a victory for transparency in a federal court decision issued last week (PDF) that rejected Monmouth County’s rationale for trying to seal a video recording of a man who died after being restrained at Monmouth County Correctional Institution. The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey sided with the position the ACLU-NJ put forth in an amicus brief for the case, Bornstein v. County of Monmouth.
“The court was correct to recognize that when a person dies while in the care of a public agency, the public deserves an explanation, not secrecy,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, who wrote the ACLU-NJ’s amicus brief (PDF) in the case. “The public’s interest in understanding the circumstances surrounding a person’s death in county custody far outweighs what the court identified as vague speculation about the potential harms that could come from releasing the footage.”
In July 2010, Amit Bornstein died in Monmouth County Jail after having been booked for failure to appear in court. In the course of a wrongful death lawsuit following his death, Monmouth County sought to seal the previously publicly available security camera footage from the incident only after a third party tried to obtain copies. The footage showed the jail’s booking area and constant-watch area. In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert pointed out the insufficiency of Monmouth County’s arguments that releasing the tape would jeopardize public safety generally, especially in contrast to the many arguments in favor of leaning toward public disclosure.
“Here, defendants have failed to identify the particularized harm that would result from the public disclosure of the security footage,” said Judge Arpert’s Aug. 27 opinion, which also mentioned less restrictive alternatives Monmouth County could have sought to sealing the entire tape.