A judge has ruled that the city of Worcester violated Massachusetts Public Records Law by failing to disclose records of police misconduct investigations requested by a local newspaper.
The June 2 decision from Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker found that the city had wrongly withheld records of police misconduct investigations from the Telegram & Gazette for the last three years, the newspaper reported Friday.
The city was wrong in arguing it could not disclose the records of Worcester police officers who are being sued in civil rights cases, the judge wrote.
The decision marks the third time in 20 years that the city had been found to have unlawfully withheld police records.
“The judge’s decision is not a victory for the newspaper alone, but a victory for the people of Worcester,” said David Nordman, the executive editor of the newspaper. “We will continue to work for them by holding those in power accountable.”
The Telegram & Gazette sued the city after attempting in 2018 to obtain records of the police department’s investigations into police misconduct. The request followed claims from a civil rights lawyer of a pattern of misconduct at the department.
The city initially signaled it would release the records and additional documents that detailed disciplinary history of officers. But when the newspaper published an article on the lawyer’s allegations of police misconduct, the city backtracked and returned a check the newspaper had sent for some of the records.
The judge said that the city must turn over the police investigation records to the newspaper within 30 days. She has not yet determined whether to enforce damages on the city or whether the city must pay the newspaper’s legal fees.
Michael E. Traynor, an attorney for the city, said in a statement that they are reviewing the court decision and “will immediately take steps to comply with the actions ordered.”
Traynor said that the city believes that it has followed the proper procedure but “the court has decided otherwise."