I received a telephone call on Monday, August 6, 2012, from Deputy Attorney General Vincent J. Rizzo, Jr., Esq. A recent posting I made on a newspaper’s blog site had caught Mr. Rizzo’s attention and caused him concern.
At issue were some files I placed on-line regarding a July 27, 2012 Press of Atlantic City article that reported on Jason Dare, a New Jersey State Trooper, being acquitted of drunk driving and refusal to take an Alcotest after an early morning, single car crash in Hamilton Township, Atlantic County.
The files consisted of the “crash report” of Trooper Dare’s car accident, the summonses that were issued to him and the incident reports prepared by the Hamilton police officers who investigated the accident and arrested Trooper Dare.
I obtained the crash report and the incident reports from Michael T. Brandenberger, records custodian for the Hamilton Police Department. They contained Trooper Dare’s address, license plate number, driver license number and auto insurance policy. Since the latter three categories of information are identified as “confidential personal identifiers” by Court Rule 1:38-7, I redacted them before posting the records on-line.
I received the summonses from Antoinette Tummon, Deputy Court Administrator of the Hamilton Municipal Court. Trooper Dare’s driver license number and license plate documents were redacted from the summons, but his address was disclosed. I uploaded those documents to the Internet without further redactions.
Deputy Attorney General Rizzo was concerned that the summons and crash report (as well as one of the incident reports) disclosed the address that was on Trooper Dare’s driver license, which Mr. Rizzo told me was the address of Dare’s home which he occupied along with his wife and two small children. Mr. Rizzo explained that since Trooper Dare may have done undercover work and may have made himself enemies among the criminal class, my on-line disclosure of his home address tended to put the Trooper and his family at risk. He asked me to further redact the records so as to obscure the Trooper’s home address.
My response to Deputy Attorney General Rizzo was probably not what he expected. I remarked that police officers aren’t the only ones who have cause to be concerned with the general public knowing where they and their families sleep at night. I used myself as an example, and remarked that I have filed ethics and other types of formal complaints against a multitude of attorneys, police officers and other officials and the thought had crossed my mind that some of them might respond in a violent manner. I asked Mr. Rizzo whether he would be similarly protective of my home address if someone had, for instance, submitted an OPRA request for a traffic ticket that I had received and posted the ticket–with my residence address in full view–on the Internet. I also raised a possible societal benefit in making the residence addresses of police officers as easy to determine as those of non-law enforcement citizens. I suggested that this awareness might might cause some officers to treat the citizens they serve more reasonably and humanely.
My concluding remarks to Mr. Rizzo were that a) I didn’t wish any harm to come to the Trooper or his family but that b) I didn’t agree that someone’s status as a law enforcement officer automatically exempts him from the concerns that the rest of us face when our personal information is on public display. I also said that c) even if I agreed with him, I didn’t think that he and I should decide this issue on an ad hoc basis. Rather, I stated that the issue of which, if any, classes of employees, both public and private, should be protected from public disclosure of their residential addresses should be deliberated and decided as a matter of general public policy.
In sum, I offered Mr. Rizzo the following. I would redact Trooper Dare’s home address, temporarily, until Friday, September 7, 2012. Such would give Deputy Attorney General Rizzo, Trooper Dare and others in law enforcement an opportunity to obtain a court order or other legal remedy preventing me from reposting the Trooper’s home address on the Internet. The court or administrative proceeding leading up to the ultimate decision would allow for public deliberation and evaluation of all aspects of the question.
I believe that this is a reasonable accommodation of law enforcement’s concern. While recognizing that I can do nothing to prevent those who have already downloaded Trooper Dare’s home address from reposting it elsewhere, I have at least temporarily stopped further disclosure of that information from my Internet uploads until the necessary deliberation and determinations occur.
The properly redacted records (which I recommend to those who wish to see how Trooper Dare interacted with Hamilton officers–e.g. Trooper Dare’s brother, Nicholas Dare, is employed as a Hamilton Township Police Officer and Sergeant Gehring reported that Trooper Dare used profanity, slurred his words and had a “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath”) are on-line here:
Motor Vehicle Crash Report
Summonses issued–“not guilty” verdicts entered for each.
Captain Petuskey’s Incident Report
Sergeant Gehring’s Incident Report
Officer Esposito’s Incident Report
Officer Lee’s Incident Report
Officer Rudolph’s Incident Report
Also of interest is Captain Petuskey’s report, which recounts his telephone conversation with Hamilton Township Municipal Court Judge H. Robert Switzer, who told Petuskey that he could not forcibly take blood from Dare at the hospital. While it’s not entirely clear, Switzer’s decision perhaps finds some support in the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2001 Decision in State v. Ravotto, 169 N.J. 227, which is on-line here.
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party’s
Police Accountability Project