In 2017, New Britain police officer James Wozniak (who appears to now be a New Britain school resource officer) claimed in an arrest report that a man had consented to a search. Yet dashboard camera footage clearly showed the man had not consented, and the case was thrown out because of Wozniak’s illegal search. Two years later, however, Wozniak was involved in another search case. And there was a chance he could be called to the witness stand. Prosecutors shared the record of Wozniak’s past misconduct with the judge, but they tried to hide it, arguing for those records to be sealed from the defense and the public. Luckily, the court disagreed.
“It is vital to the public interest that the public know when the rights of its citizens are violated and to know if a person on whose reports and testimony the public must rely has demonstrated a propensity for dishonesty and deceptiveness,” wrote U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant.
The people accused in that case were lucky. Wozniak’s misconduct came to light while they could still use it to mount a defense. Under the law, however, prosecutors should have turned that information over to the defense right away, and they should be doing so in every case, every time.
Since 1963, prosecutors in the U.S. have been legally required to disclose pertinent information that might be favorable to the defense in a criminal case, including information about whether a police employee involved had credibility issues. For decades, most legal scholars and practitioners have interpreted that as requiring prosecutors to keep a list of police whose histories prevent them from being credible witnesses.
Often called “Brady lists” after Brady v. Maryland, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case that established them, these lists are also sometimes known as “do not call,” “no call,” “disclosure,” or “exclusionary” lists. Brady lists are ultimately a list of police employees whose involvement in a case – as arresting officer, investigator, witness, or in another role – undermines its integrity. These lists, maintained by prosecutors, should be updated regularly to ensure they include the most recent and comprehensive information. They are different from the POSTC list of decertified police officers, which is based on a rarely-used process and standards, and are instead based on the legal requirements set by the U.S. Supreme Court (although under those requirements, a decertified employee’s name must be disclosed).
Brady lists are vital public information, as they show which police employees have credibility issues and indicate whether prosecutors are following the law by maintaining and updating those records. We’ve filed a Freedom of Information request to all state’s attorneys in Connecticut, including the office of the chief state’s attorney, seeking copies of those lists and of state’s attorneys’ policies and procedures for updating, maintaining, and disclosing them to defendants.
Across the country, Brady lists include police with histories of falsifying reports, fabricating or tampering with evidence, lying on the witness stand, coercing witnesses, brutalizing people, accruing misconduct lawsuits or complaints, blatant racism, and more. The common understanding is that if prosecutors aren’t keeping track of and regularly updating these lists, they’re also at risk of not following the law.
Brady information is especially critical for people who are accused of a crime, and prosecutors are legally required to provide that information to their defense in time for them to use it. When prosecutors don’t keep track of or disclose that information, the human and financial tolls can be dire. The National Registry of Exonerations shows 16 exonerations in Connecticut since 1989 in which official misconduct was a contributing factor. In those cases, 16 people lost more than 227 years of their lives behind bars. Many, though not all, involved police misconduct.
In one recent case from New Haven, this misconduct cost one man more than 18 years of his life and the City of New Haven at least $9.5 million.
Scott Lewis was wrongfully incarcerated before his exoneration in 2015. Lewis had been convicted in 1995 for the deaths of former New Haven alderman Ricardo Turner and his partner, Lamont Fields. The prosecution’s case relied on testimony from New Haven police detective Vincent Raucci and another man whom Raucci had recruited to testify.
Raucci, as it turned out, was a problem. In 1996, the key witness in the case told the FBI, as part of an investigation into Raucci’s conduct, that Raucci had coerced him into testifying. He had “set up” Lewis, he wrote, at the behest of a “corrupted cop.” The witness stated that he had told police repeatedly that he didn’t have knowledge of the murders, and that he had only spoken against Lewis after Raucci had promised to let him go if he did. Raucci went on to resign from the New Haven police department after a slew of misconduct allegations, including of links to the New Haven drug trade, larceny, and domestic violence, and he later led the FBI in a four-hour standoff in New Mexico.
In 2015, a federal appeals court ruled that the prosecution should have disclosed to Lewis’s lawyers that the key witness had changed his story after Raucci coached him. Lewis was exonerated and freed after nearly two decades in prison because of a police employee’s misconduct. In 2017, the City of New Haven agreed to settle a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit from Lewis for $9.5 million.
In Lewis’s case, as in others, the difference between justice and a person being wrongfully incarcerated for years came down to transparency about a police employee’s misconduct. Without transparency about Brady lists, however, it is difficult to know how many cases like his may have fallen through the cracks.
Brady lists also, however, are important for people beyond those facing imprisonment and their loved ones. Juries should know, for instance, if the police employee testifying before them had been repeatedly investigated, for example, for mishandling evidence, especially if they were deciding whether to convict someone based on that evidence. Crime victims should know if the police employee handling their case had a history of, for instance, coercing false testimony from people, which could prevent the state from getting to the truth. And prosecutors should be aware if a case is unlikely to hold up in court because it relies on an unreliable police employee.
Prosecutors should make their Brady lists public. It’s in this spirit of transparency that we’re asking all state’s attorneys for their Brady lists, and for their policies for maintaining and disclosing them. Brady lists are public records, not personnel records or investigative material. As Judge Bryant pointed out in 2019, a police employee or department’s embarrassment isn’t a good enough reason to hide Brady information from the public.
Brady lists, after all, are not lists of “bad apples,” or “rogue cops,” because the fact that these lists must legally exist is an example of how the system of policing is rotten to its core. At its heart, the Brady requirement illustrates that police agencies keep and shield employees who are unable to perform a core function of their job, and that this aspect of policing is so ingrained that other criminal legal system actors are required to establish entire systems to try to mitigate it. Our society shouldn’t need Brady lists, because there should be no such thing as a police agency that keeps cops with histories of lying, brutality, false arrests, fabricating reports or evidence, racism, coercing witnesses, or other misconduct that would land them on a “do not call” list. Brady is, in other words, a demonstration of the way society has had to contort into knots to protect people working as police more than the public safety that policing is ostensibly meant to uphold.
In places where prosecutors do not keep complete and updated Brady lists or (in some cases) even written policies for adhering to Brady, it has also shown prosecutors prioritizing sparing police embarrassment above the integrity of cases. Our hope is that Connecticut state’s attorneys will not fall in this camp, but the results from our Freedom of Information request will speak for themselves.
[Update: Read the second part in this series, including results of our investigation.]