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Massachusetts State Police Take $180 From Records Requester; Refuse To Turn Over Records

from the taking-your-cake-and-eating-it-too dept

The police department of the largest city in the US often tops the list of public records villains. According to FOIA requesters, the NYPD manages to out-stonewall notoriously recalcitrant entities like the NSA, FBI, and CIA. Not far behind the NYPD, however, is the entire state of Massachusetts.

This state has the worst public records laws in the nation, with 19 pages of exemptions — almost one-third of its 60-page public records statute. Various state entities have done things like withhold documents on a 63-year-old murder case, citing the “ongoing” nature of an investigation with zero leads and several dead suspects. Officials have also claimed the state’s SWAT teams are private entities, out of the reach of public records requests. The state’s lawyers have previously argued the state laws — as crippled as they are — hand over too much power to constituents.

But possibly nothing beats the Massachusetts state police. Investigative Reporters and Editors handed the agency its “Golden Padlock” award in 2015 for being the most secretive agency in the nation. The agency does far more than stonewall requesters. It sets up astronomical paywalls between requesters and their records.

IRE notes the $42,750 and $62,220 fees handed to the Boston Globe for the log of its public records requests and records of crashes involving police cruisers, respectively. IRE also mentions that a Bay State Examiner reporter was told to pay a $710.50 “non-refundable research fee” for an estimate of another fee to obtain copies of internal affairs reports.

MuckRock records requester Andrew Quemere wasn’t hit with a huge fee for his records request. He was asked for $180 up front before the state police would respond to his request for records. But then the state police decided to keep its records… and Quemere’s money, too.

After pocketing $180 in fees for a public records request, the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) turned around and attempted to convince the state supervisor of public records that the agency didn’t have to turn the records over.

Quemere was searching for records on marijuana possession enforcement, attempting to see if the MSP were still busting people for pot after voters had approved legalization but before the law took effect. He made this request last December. At first, the MSP tried to argue all the records were exempt from disclosure, citing a criminal records statute which forbade the disclosure of suspects’ and arrestees’ names and other personal info.

Quemere pointed out this information could be redacted before the docs were released to him. The state’s Supervisor of Records agreed with Quemere and told MSP to release the redacted records. The state police then asked Quemere for $180 to cover the review and redacting costs: 7.2 hours @ $25/hour.

Quemere crowdfunded the fee and sent MSP the check. That’s when the state police went from less-than-responsive to entirely unresponsive.

I raised the money through a crowdfunding campaign, and MuckRock sent the MSP a check on March 1. However, the MSP never turned over the records or even acknowledged receiving the check. On March 31, I asked the MSP if they had received the check, but the agency did not respond.

Quemere filed another appeal, hoping to at least find out where his money was, if not his requested records. The state supervisor again ruled in favor of Quemere and noted the state police claimed the records would be ready in ten days. Guess what didn’t happen.

Instead, Glenn Rooney, an MSP lawyer sent the supervisor of records an email on April 28th in which he again argued that the reports were exempt under the CORI statute. Rooney wrote that the CORI statute allows agencies to withhold records in their entirety, and there is no obligation for them to redact records protected by CORI. He further argued that the MSP could not release the records because someone could use police logs to identify the arrestees.

Nearly a month later, Quemere filed his third appeal. And for a third time, the state records supervisor overruled the state police and told the agency to hand over the records.

I wish I could tell this has now been resolved but a visit to the request page shows the state police still have yet to turn over the requested records, much less give Quemere an expected due date. As it stands now, there’s a ton of unproductive correspondence from the state police uploaded and an expected completion date of “none.”

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Comments on “Massachusetts State Police Take $180 From Records Requester; Refuse To Turn Over Records”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

"I'm warning you, if you keep that up I'll be really peeved."

Nearly a month later, Quemere filed his third appeal. And for a third time, the state records supervisor overruled the state police and told the agency to hand over the records.

At this point I’d say it’s pretty clear that unless the ‘supervisor’ hands out some sort of penalty they’ll just keep stonewalling. Hit them with a personal fine or other ‘incentive’ to do what they’re told or they will continue to ignore what they’re ordered to do.

Bruce C. says:

Re: "I'm warning you, if you keep that up I'll be really peeved."

This assumes that the “supervisor” has the authority to penalize non-compliant agencies. I suspect that the reason Quemere hasn’t taken his case to the regular court system is that the law doesn’t allow for it. So a powerless administrator plus no recourse to the courts = a meaningless/useless public records law, even without considering all the exceptions that the supervisor has to allow anyway.

Daydream says:

I'm going to try and squeeze a bunch of radicalism, hysteria and anti-police sentiment into one comment:

Who needs the records? We know what the Massachusetts police are doing anyway.

They’re right up to their necks in extortion. Drugs, ‘child exploitation material’, weapons, slaves even, they’re taking their cut! The only ‘criminals’ they arrest are the ones who don’t pay their fees!

For that matter, they aren’t above extorting money from innocents, either! All those stories you hear about police bursting into houses to shoot the owners for drugs and ‘he had a weapon!!1!’? People who didn’t pay up.

And, a good chunk of the people they arrest? Disappear into the human trafficking market! Those ‘arrests’ aren’t reported, of course.

And, and, they’re funding terrorists, too! So that whenever lawmakers vote to rein in police powers, they can call in a favour and have an ‘accident’ happen so they can go ‘See? You need us! Now bend over.”

The reason they can’t turn over records of their crashes involving police cruisers? Because if any requester follows up the names and addresses of the victims in those crashes, they’ll find that they’ve mysteriously died or disappeared after not being able to pay for scratching the shiny police car.

Drug bust records, same deal, they don’t want requesters to know where to go and who to talk to to learn about the bribes!

Unsubstantiated allegations? Perhaps. Privacy and anonymity when it comes to personal life is one thing, but in the policing profession, the highly-important-for-a-stable-society policing profession with its massive amount of extra rights and responsibilities, this degree stonewalling and concealment of information can only point to one plausible conclusion; that the Massachusetts police as a whole are engaged in flagrant and widespread violation and abuse of their positions, the law, and basic human rights!

I demand that either the police of Massachusetts be prosecuted and each and every one of them has their crimes under colour of authority brought to light, or that each and every one of them be gunned down in the street!

…Right, how did I do? Sufficiently hysterical and radical and eff-da-police?

Stuart says:

Re: I'm going to try and squeeze a bunch of radicalism, hysteria and anti-police sentiment into one comment:

Reading this, I thought at first you were mentally retarded. But now I get that you’re trying to be funny! You still might have severe mental deficiencies, though, I dunno. Why would you bother writing such a ridiculous comment otherwise?

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Maybe He Should "Lawyer Up"

I am not familiar with the laws of Mass, or even how to spell the entire state name, and am certainly not licensed there.

It follows that I should not offer legal advice on the matter. None the less, I can offer something similar. After this time and trouble, he ought to talk to a lawyer. The local bar assn will likely have someone in the area who is familiar with that area of law.

There may be a fee-shifting provision, or there may not be. Someone more familiar with that area would likely know.

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