ACLU-NJ urges access to footage and reports related to fatal shooting by police
The ACLU-NJ made arguments for police accountability in North Jersey Media Group v. Lyndhurst, a pivotal case at the New Jersey Supreme Court case that could determine the future of police transparency in New Jersey.
Along with North Jersey Media Group’s attorneys and other transparency advocates, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom argued that upholding a lower court’s ruling in the case could potentially shield basic information about police actions from the public unless the police choose to share it.
“Community trust in police, which is hard to gain and difficult to maintain, will disappear if police executives become the gatekeepers of public records,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “The role of police in society demands more transparency, not less.”
This case concerns records – including dashboard camera footage and police ”use of force” reports – related to the 2014 police shooting of Kashad Ashford.
“New Jersey officials have already used the lower court ruling to justify cloaking the police in secrecy,” said ACLU-NJ Transparency Law Fellow Iris Bromberg. “Police transparency in New Jersey hangs in the balance in this case, a time when transparency could not be more urgent.”
It is especially important amid dozens of high-profile police killings, and in particular killings of people of color, captured on film in recent years. Such incidents around the country have led to calls for police body cameras with public access to the footage as a tool for police accountability. This case could threaten to prevent the public of New Jersey from accessing dashcam or bodycam footage and other materials, canceling out any gains in transparency.
The ACLU-NJ’s friend-of-the-court brief was also filed on behalf of eight other civil rights organizations: the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey, Black Lives Matter - New Jersey, Garden State Bar Association, Garden State Equality, Latino Action Network, Latino Leadership Alliance, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and People’s Organization for Progress. The brief contended that our state’s transparency law dictates that the public should have access to the records sought by North Jersey Media Group.
“New Jersey communities must have access to basic information to hold police accountable for the actions they take as agents of our government,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “We grant police extraordinary power, including the power to take a life. In exchange, law enforcement has an obligation to let the public understand the actions taken to protect and serve.”