The SOMA Black Parents Workshop, a local advocacy group, is calling on Maplewood Township leaders to release the audio and video recordings from the night of July 5, 2016, when a group of teenagers clashed with Maplewood Police.
In a release from Walter Fields, the group cited a recent NJ Supreme Court ruling that found that police videos are public records, and demanded that the Township “make those recordings available in the next 24 hours.”
Fields notes that Village Green and CHS teacher Thomas J. Whitaker have both filed Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests for the records to be released, but the Township has so far said they are unable to comply because the investigation is ongoing.
See the full release below.
Maplewood Must Release July 5 2016 Police Audio and Video Recordings New Jersey Supreme Court Ruling Leaves No Excuses
(Maplewood, NJ) – The unanimous ruling yesterday by the New Jersey Supreme Court in NJMG v. Lyndhurst that police videos are public records leaves room for no excuses for the Township of Maplewood to withhold the audio and video recordings related to the July 5, 2016 Independence Day fireworks incident. The Court made clear that police videos, including dashcam videos, are subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Two OPRA requests for the July 5, 2016 audio and video recordings have already been made; one by the Village Green and the other by Columbia High School teacher Thomas J. Whitaker. The Township of Maplewood should make those recordings available in the next 24 hours.
The Court’s opinion aligns with our statement last week that the release of these videos is in the public interest. Chief Justice Rabner, in the Court’s opinion, wrote that withholding police videos “can undermine confidence in law enforcement and work that officers routinely perform.” We concur. Transparency is critical in these matters and our demonstration in front of the Maplewood Police Department’s headquarters last week was a plea for transparency.
The public should not and cannot be kept in the dark regarding the management and operation of police departments. We have a right-to-know. It’s time for the Township of Maplewood to act in the public’s interest and comply with the Court ruling and move toward full transparency. There is no excuse for not doing so and any further delay in releasing all of the recordings from July 5, 2016 can only be treated as an attempt to conceal and avoid holding public servants accountable.