Fox Attorney Argued for ACLU in NJ Appeal to Secure Public Disclosure of Police Body Cam Footage

January 24, 2020 – Press Releases

Arguments made by Fox Rothschild Partner Jacob S. Perskie were adopted by the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division in a case that sets an important precedent for transparency and accountability in the handling of footage from a police officer’s body-worn camera in the wake of a shooting.

Perskie, representing the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Richard Rivera, LLC v. Township of Bloomfield that said a lower court erred in ruling that footage of an officer-involved shooting was protected by an exception to the Open Public Records Act.

The Essex County Prosecutors Office refused to release the footage of the Aug. 18, 2017 shooting when a knife-wielding male was killed by officers responding to a 911 call. A judge later agreed and ruled that the footage was a “criminal investigatory record” and therefore exempt from disclosure due to the interest of “maintaining confidentiality” in a law enforcement investigation.

But Perskie argued that publicly releasing such footage is essential to good policing.

“When it comes to police-involved shootings, there is a straight line from access to information to transparency to accountability,” Perskie wrote in his brief. “This benefits all parties, both by promoting confidence in the good works of the law enforcement community, and in providing a check against efforts to shield improper conduct from public view.”

In his oral argument, Perskie said New Jersey law was already on his side.

A “criminal investigatory record” is one neither required by law to be made or maintained. But, here, a directive from the New Jersey Attorney General explicitly requires body-worn camera recordings to be made whenever deadly force is used, Perskie said, and the New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized such directives as carrying the force of law. As a result, Perskie argued, the body-worn camera footage cannot be a “criminal investigatory record” and the footage must be released.

The Appellate Division agreed, finding that the Essex County Prosecutors Office had failed to show that its interest in confidentiality outweighed the public’s interest in disclosure.