Court: U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey
Date Filed: May 24, 2021
Background: In 2020, while attending a protest against police misconduct, New Jersey resident Kevin Alfaro was surprised and upset to see that a Nutley Police Department officer on duty at the event had — Alfaro alleges — obscured the identifying information on his badge. With an eye toward filing a complaint against the officer with the Department, Alfaro tweeted a photo of the man and asked whether anyone knew who he was. While Alfaro never received any information in response, he did, startlingly, receive a criminal summons issued by Detective Michael Rempusheski that charged him with felony “cyber harassment” — as did most of the Twitter users who retweeted Alfaro’s post.
A prosecutor declined to pursue the charges. In February 2021, Alfaro and one of the users who retweeted his post, represented by attorneys at Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, filed suit against Rempusheski. They argue that the summonses the detective issued were baseless and intended to chill criticism of a fellow officer. Rempusheski moved to dismiss the lawsuit, maintaining that the plaintiffs’ tweets provided probable cause to believe that they intended to cause the officer harm.
Our Position: The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey should deny Rempusheski’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
- Soliciting information about the identity of a law enforcement officer engaged in newsworthy conduct in public is a routine feature of police accountability reporting.
- A request for that information, without more, provides no evidence of an intent to cause a person harm, and concluding otherwise would have a chilling effect on newsgathering.
Bruce S. Rosen of McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, P.C. served as the Reporters Committee’s local counsel for this brief.
Quote: “Reporters often turn to the public — as Plaintiffs did — for information of public concern the government would rather not provide. Such an intent to expose official conduct to scrutiny cannot, consistent with the Constitution, be punished as intent ‘to place a reasonable person in fear of physical or emotional harm.’”
Related: The Reporters Committee has filed a series of friend-of-the-court briefs urging courts in several jurisdictions — including New Jersey — to uphold the press and public’s right of access to police misconduct records, which are essential to the public’s ability to evaluate the performance of their government.