Six employees of the Paterson Police Department were disciplined in 2015 for committing serious violations. When retired police officer and civil rights advocate Richard Rivera sought information about the disciplinary actions through a public records request, police allegedly provided him false information.
Rivera was provided a document that stated zero police officers were subject of major discipline in 2015. But that isn’t true, says Rivera’s lawsuit filed on September 11. Police previously released information to a news reporter that stated six police officers were disciplined in 2015.
One received a 90-day suspension for failing to abide by the New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines on police pursuit. Two were terminated for violating police drug policy. Two were allowed to resign instead of facing termination for unbecoming conduct. One submitted inaccurate police reports, and another failed to properly dispatch a unit to a location. And one was terminated for incompetence for failing to properly dispatch a unit to a crime in progress.
Police falsely claimed they did not have the disciplinary synopsis listing offense and punishment on file, according to the lawsuit. State regulations require police to maintain such records. Police are also required to annually publish “a brief synopsis of all complaints where a fine or suspension of 10 days or more was assessed to an agency member” without revealing the names of the police officers, according to the Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures promulgated by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.
“These disclosures are required to be made every year and they are very important. They allow residents to see what type of serious misconduct occurred within the local police department and how those officers were punished. It is the only sliver of transparency in the entire police disciplinary process and it is beyond disappointing that Paterson responded the way it did to this OPRA request,” said C.J. Griffin, attorney representing Rivera in the lawsuit, on Friday. “Despite the fact that the Attorney General’s policy requires these annual disclosures, we’re seeing so many agencies who are not doing it. The AG really needs to act and start holding agencies accountable for that.”
Public safety director Jerry Speziale declined to comment citing litigation.
When asked why the police website does not contain the information, Speziale said there have been frequent changes in people managing the website.
Rivera filed his request seeking “synopsis of major discipline” imposed against members of the police force from 2010 through 2020 on June 26. He was told there “are no records responsive” to his request on July 29.
Police instead provided a document that listed tallies of officers disciplined during each year of the decade. Document showed 10 officers were disciplined in 2010; five in 2011; nine in 2012; seven in 2013; nine in 2014; ostensibly zero in 2015; zero in 2016 and 2017; two in 2018; eight in 2019; and zero in 2020.
Rivera specifically did not seek the names of the police officers. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive in June ordering all law enforcement agencies to release names of the officers fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days every year. That directive is subject of an injunction. Rivera sought information that’s not covered by the injunction.
Rivera is known for collecting internal affairs summary reports and use of force reports from police departments. Over the years, Rivera has collected 1,300 Internal Affairs annual summary reports and 8,500 use of force reports from various police departments.
Rivera volunteers for the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. He serves as a co-chair of the organization’s Civil Rights Protection Project that monitors police activities with the aim of improving policing through better training and by holding officers accountable.
Rivera’s lawsuit seeks the court to force Paterson to produce the disciplinary action reports and cover his legal expenses for having to file the legal action.
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