Connecticut State Police awarded 2020 Black Hole Award
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Paul Fletcher, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair, 804-873-1893, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashlynn Neumeyer, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-361-4133, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- Each year during Sunshine Week, the Society of Professional Journalists presents government institutions or agencies with the Black Hole Award for outright contempt of the public’s right to know. SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee has chosen the Connecticut State Police as this year’s award winner for its routine violations of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act.
“At time when too many public officials – at all levels – have blithely ignored the rule of law, Sunshine Week is an opportunity to reflect on press freedoms and the fact that our laws do in fact make government officials accountable to the public – the citizens who pay their salaries,” said Paul Fletcher, chair of the SPJ national FOI committee and a past national president.
“A blatant disregard for the Connecticut FOI laws earned the state police force this year’s Black Hole Award,” he said.
In January, it was reported that a hearing officer researched and found state police had violated the state’s FOIA 29 times since 2010 and were the subject of 60 complaints.
"This is nothing new from the State Police," said Mike Savino, a member of SPJ's national FOI Committee and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. "They have been ignoring the public's right to know for years and their recent actions show that this culture continues."
The most recent violation was when state police informed a reporter that a requested video did not exist when it in fact did. The reporter was seeking information about an arrest when the state police claimed the requested video was exempt from FOIA because prosecution was pending, despite the legislature removing the exemption in 2015.
State police also falsely claimed an exemption in withholding nearly 1,000 records connected to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, which resulted in a years-long legal battle and a state Supreme Court ruling in 2018.
Multiple violations have occurred due to a two-year backlog of requests for basic arrest records, which the police helped create by reducing its records division staff as FOI requests increased. The union representing rank-and-file state troopers has also taken advantage of state laws that allow employee unions to supersede state law through collective bargaining. Last year, an approved contract created a new exemption for internal affairs investigations in cases where troopers are cleared, or charges are unfounded.
Dishonorable mentions for this year’s Black Hole Award include the Senate Republican Leadership, for its access restrictions imposed on journalists covering the impeachment trial of President Trump, and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, for its refusal to disclose public records of vital importance.
Nominations for the Black Hole Award come from journalists, open government advocates and the general public.
Previous recipients of the Black Hole Award include President Donald Trump and his administration, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, the U.S. Virgin Islands Government, U.S. Forest Service, and Oklahoma State University.
The Society of Professional Journalists launched the Black Hole Award to highlight the most heinous violations of the public's right to know. By exposing such abuses, SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee seeks to educate members of the public about their rights and call attention to those who would interfere with openness and transparency.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.