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Fuster v. Township of Chatham

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  1. Freedom of Information

Court: New Jersey Supreme Court

Date Filed: June 20, 2024

Background: In May 2022, Antonio Fuster went to the police in Chatham, New Jersey, to report that a relative had abused his child, who has special needs. Skeptical that the police report captured the details he communicated, Fuster filed a request under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act for the footage from the police body-worn camera that was running when he talked to the police. 

The agency denied the request in full, claiming that the relative referenced in the recording had a strong privacy interest because he was never charged with a crime. Fuster sued the township of Chatham for access to the bodycam footage, but a judge ruled in favor of the township, concluding that the recording was exempt from disclosure under OPRA and not subject to release under the common law. 

On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey affirmed the lower court, finding that body camera videos relating to a person who is investigated but not charged are exempt from public access.

Fuster appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Our Position: The New Jersey Supreme Court should reverse the appeals court’s decision and order the release of the requested bodycam footage.

  • Access to the bodycam footage is mandated under OPRA and the common law; where legitimate privacy interests are implicated by a record, redaction as opposed to wholesale withholding is required.
  • A strong public interest in oversight of law enforcement underpins a nationwide trend toward increased public access to police bodycam footage.
  • The news media relies on, and has a powerful interest in, access to records of investigations of law enforcement misconduct to inform the public.

From the Brief: “[T]he public interest is served when journalists and news organizations have access to, and report on, records that neutrally and accurately reflect law enforcement personnel’s interactions with the public.”

Related: In 2022, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued two unanimous decisions ordering the disclosure of records concerning law enforcement misconduct. In both cases, the state Supreme Court referenced arguments the Reporters Committee made in friend-of-the-court briefs urging the court to make the records public.

“These Supreme Court decisions weave greater transparency and accountability into the tapestry of open government that New Jersey communities collectively construct each time an individual files an open records request, attends a school board meeting or sues the government to enforce the state’s open government laws,” Reporters Committee Staff Attorney Gunita Singh wrote in an op-ed for NJ Spotlight News.

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