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Avon loses bid to keep records secret in ex-police chief's departure

Sastre says that when he first began filing FOI requests he spent hours writing formal complaint letters. Now he generally forwards an email where his request for information was denied to the Freedom of Information Commission with a just a brief explanation.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Case records describe the lengthy public records dispute over whether the town of Avon must disclose a document that would shed light on its former police chief's retirement.

Avon residents are a step closer to learning more about the accusations that led to the retirement of the town’s former police chief.

A Superior Court judge on Tuesday rejected Avon’s bid to keep secret an 11-page document that describes incidents involving former Chief Mark Rinaldo.

That 11-page log, kept by an unnamed employee, led to Rinaldo’s abrupt departure in 2019.

It includes detailed observations made by another managerial town employee of "certain work related activities" by the chief from June 20, 2018, through Oct. 25, 2019, according to court records.

The state's Freedom of Information Commission previously ordered Avon to release the document. The court's decision this week means a two-and-a-half-year legal battle over the record appears to be coming to an end.

The town has argued that the log is not a public record and is covered by attorney-client privilege. Farmington resident Joseph Sastre disagrees. He filed the FOI complaint, arguing the public has a right to know why Rinaldo left. Now, both the Freedom of Information Commission and a New Britain judge agree with Sastre.

The town can appeal to a higher court. Connecticut Public reached out to the town manager and attorney, but they have yet to respond.

Rinaldo also did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Rinaldo was abruptly placed on leave in November 2019, and town officials were tight-lipped about the decision, saying only that allegations had surfaced about his conduct.

Rinaldo retired a few months later, signing an agreement that allowed him to cash out more than $80,000 of unused time off,and three months’ worth of additional severance pay.

Town officials previously provided Sastre with a copy of the severance agreement with the chief, but they withheld the log of incidents involving the chief.

The FOI commission eventually determined that the log was a public document. But it took more than a year and a half for the commission to reach that decision, which was finalized in November 2021.

Connecticut Public previously highlighted the dispute in an investigative report describing lengthy delays in public records cases.

Disclosure of the document was put on hold after the town filed an administrative appeal in court. Judge John L. Cordani dismissed the appeal Tuesday, however, finding that the FOIC was correct in ordering the town to release the document.

Walter Smith Randolph is the Investigative Editor and Director of The Accountability Project at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. The New York City native comes to CT Public after a decade of reporting at local tv stations across the country.
Jim Haddadin is a data journalist for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer for NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.