06/15/17

Commission Tells Enfield to Turn Over Police Lawsuit Documents to the ACLU-CT

When an Enfield police officer was named in 11 excessive force lawsuits, the town tried to keep the lawsuit settlements secret. We took action and won.

In 2014, police dashboard camera video footage surfaced of an Enfield police officer beating a man in the head as the man lay handcuffed on the ground. By the time that officer, Matthew Worden, was fired and decertified, he had been the subject of 14 internal affairs investigations by the police department and had been named in 11 excessive force lawsuits alleging that violated people’s rights.

By June 2017, the town of Enfield had settled eight of those 11 lawsuits, but it refused to share the details of these settlements, including how much they cost, with the public.

When towns shroud lawsuit settlements in secrecy, it doesn’t help to build community trust in open, transparent government. The public deserves to know how much Enfield paid to settle these lawsuits involving a town employee.

The ACLU of Connecticut took action by demanding documents from Enfield regarding the settlements for three of the lawsuits: Salas v. Town of Enfield, Avalos v. Town of Enfield, and Trowbridge v. Town of Enfield. When the town refused to turn over that information, the ACLU of Connecticut appealed to the state Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission.

In a preliminary decision, FOI Commission hearing officer Lisa Fein Siegel recommended that the full Commission order Enfield to provide the ACLU of Connecticut with all of the information we sought. On June 14, 2017, the full FOI Commission met and issued its final ruling, which fully adopted the hearing officer’s recommendations. Enfield did not have a representative at that hearing; once Enfield receives the FOI Commission’s final ruling in the mail, the town will have 45 days to either appeal the Commission’s decision or, as ordered, turn over documents to the ACLU of Connecticut.

Democracy works best in the light. Transparency is critical for people to know what their town governments are doing in their names, and whether those actions meet their expectations.

For a copy of the ACLU of Connecticut’s complaint to the state Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission: http://www.acluct.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/2017-04-04-ACLU-Connecticut-v-Enfield_FOI-Commission-Police-Lawsuit-Settlements.pdf

For a copy of the FOI Commission hearing officer’s preliminary ruling in favor of the ACLU-CT’s request: http://www.acluct.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/5.2.2017-FOI-Commission-Proposed-Final-Ruling-ACLUCT-v-Enfield-2.pdf

For more background about the lawsuits against Enfield police officer Worden [warning: this link will take you away from the ACLU of Connecticut’s website]: http://www.courant.com/community/enfield/hc-enfield-foi-hearing-matthew-worden-lawsuit-settlements-0614-20170613-story.html