Judge dismisses lawsuit in CT state police ticketing scandal
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit by the Connecticut State Police Union seeking to block officials from releasing the names of troopers under investigation for allegedly falsifying traffic stop tickets.
Superior Court Judge Rupal Shah tossed the lawsuit days after a hearing Tuesday, where the union’s representatives, Jeffrey Ment and Andrew Matthews, sought to stop the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection from disclosing the names and badge numbers of more than a hundred state troopers.
Shah’s decision, released on Thursday, was made on grounds that the court currently lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute. Instead, the judge ruled, the case falls under the purview of the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, which issues rulings about whether government records are public information.
“Until the commission acts, the court cannot consider the propriety of the disclosure or non-disclosure of a public record,” Shah wrote in the ruling.
The State Police did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday night on whether it plans to release the names and badge numbers.
Shah’s ruling marks the latest turn in a ticketing scandal that has resulted in a legislative hearing, a Department of Justice investigation and scrutiny from the general public.
An audit was released earlier this year by the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, which collects data detailing the race and ethnicity of people pulled over by police. The audit revealed a “high likelihood” that state troopers and constables may have eroded the accuracy of Connecticut’s racial profiling database by submitting phony traffic stop information or not reporting traffic stops — the former referred to as “overreporting,” the latter as “underreporting.”
The researchers were unable to corroborate 25,966 traffic stops submitted to the racial profiling database, while indicating that the number of falsified records could possibly reach 58,553.
While examining the data, which ranged from 2014 to 2021, auditors found 311 troopers with “significant discrepancies.” In an attempt to “better hone the analysis” to those with the most remarkable disparities, they fiddled the number down to 130, which the State Police then used as the foundation of an internal investigation.
News outlets, including The Connecticut Mirror, filed Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to obtain the names and badge numbers of the 130 troopers. The request was denied by the agency, which oversees State Police, on grounds that the information was entangled in pending litigation — the subject of Thursday’s ruling.
The union’s lawyers argued that the release of the troopers’ identities would open those individuals up to “unwarranted scrutiny” and “false allegations” without the benefit of a full investigation. They also said the release of the information would damage the troopers’ reputations and risk the safety of themselves and their families.
Lawyers representing the CT Mirror and The Day of New London filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing that court officials lacked the purview to block the information from the public because that authority falls to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission.
Legal representatives from the Office of the Attorney General and the Freedom of Information Commission agreed. As did Shah, who in her ruling Thursday noted how the “plaintiff’s suit in this court precipitated any actions before the commission and the decision by DESPP to prevent the release of names.”
“The Connecticut Mirror and The Day are both very pleased with the judge’s decision, which was thoughtful and thorough, on what is an important public issue affecting the citizens of Connecticut,” said William Fish Jr., partner with Hinckley Allen, who represented the two media outlets.
Attorneys for the union had argued that the court was their only avenue to stop the disclosure of the names, given that the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection only cited the pending litigation as the reason for not releasing the records publicly. The agency could now release the records or attempt to withhold them.
If officials decided to withhold the records, news organizations or any other party making the request could appeal within 30 days to the FOI Commission, which would then make a determination after a hearing with the parties involved. Whichever way the commission ruled, the union’s lawyers could make an appeal to the Superior Court, just as they attempted to do prior to Thursday’s ruling.