A private investigator is suing the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and the City of Jersey City over Open Public Records Act requests related to a police-involved shooting in July that he alleges were either improperly denied or not answered in a timely fashion.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The OPRA requests revolve around a controversial July 1st shooting at the Arlington Gardens Housing Complex where Davante Moore and Shaquan Rush were shot by Jersey City police officers in the midst of fireworks being set off in the area.
The prosecutor’s office initially indicated they were investigating the incident, where three officers discharged their service weapons, but few other details were known in the immediate aftermath.
On July 11th, Richie Rivera, who says in the suit he has reviewed over 900 completed internal affairs investigations and more than 8,500 use of force reports, filed two similar OPRA requests: one with the HCPO and one with Jersey City.
Each asked for all use of force reports, body camera footage and dash camera footage, as well as making a distinction when requesting the Jersey City Police Department’s use of force training certificates issued since 2016 – as well as the 2017 and 2018 annual use of force reports submitted to the HCPO.
His OPRA request to the HCPO also requested a copy of the “police use of deadly force-attorney general notification report.”
A July 19th response from HCPO Chief of Civil Litigation John Libretti indicates that Rivera was given copies of the Jersey City use-of-force reports delivered to the prosecutor’s office in 2017 and 2018.
According to the suit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court on August 27th, the Jersey City Clerk’s Office has asked for multiple extensions on his request and have not answered to date, while the HCPO denied his OPRA request since the investigation is ongoing and therefore the pertinent information is exempt.
However, Rivera, through his attorney C.J. Griffin, a partner at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, P.C., argus that the HCPO’s response is in violation of state guidelines.
“HCPO has violated OPRA by failing to provide the Use of Force Reports and Police Use of Deadly Force-Attorney General Notification Report, which are required to be made pursuant to the Attorney General’s Use of Force Policy and are therefore not criminal investigatory records,” the suit says.
” … HCPO’s position is also contrary to the Attorney General Enforcement Directive No. 2018-1, which orders police videos involving police use of deadly force to be released to the public when upon ‘substantial completion of the initial investigation, generally such initial investigation should be concluded within 20 days of the use-of-force event.’”
At a public meeting on July 9th, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez revealed that Lt. Crisant Bereguette, Raymond Vasquez and Michael Jacobo were the officers involved and that body camera footage from the incident does not exist, as only HCV reported.
The suit seeks to preserve the requested records, as well as awarding counsel fees and costs – along with any other relief the court may deem just and equitable.
A Jersey City spokeswoman deferred comment to the HCPO, where spokesman Ray Worrall said the HCPO stands by their initial response.
“The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office stands by our response to the initial OPRA request and we look forward to having this matter adjudicated in court.”