Associated Press sued a New Jersey police department on Monday over its denial of a request for information stemming from a secret spying effort by New York’s police department against Muslims.
The lawsuit claims the New Brunswick Police Department violated state open-records laws when it denied a request for 911 calls and radio recordings associated with a June 2009 incident at an apartment near Rutgers University.
A building superintendent discovered terrorist literature and surveillance equipment in the apartment and called 911. New Brunswick police and the FBI responded and found that the superintendent had stumbled upon a command center set up by a secret team of New York Police Department intelligence officers who had been staging undercover operations.
An AP investigation into the spying program found that NYPD officers kept tabs on student groups at numerous schools including Yale University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University and New York University. The officers also placed informants in mosques and monitored bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs in ethnic neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, have maintained that the NYPD’s actions were legal and police have the right to travel beyond their city’s limits to do their job and protect people. New Jersey’s attorney general determined last month that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.
Last week, eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s activities as unconstitutional because they focused on people’s religion, national origin and race.
The AP, in a letter dated April 26, requested information on the 911 call under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.
In a response dated the same day, New Brunswick police Director Anthony Caputo denied the request on the grounds that it would compromise security at the apartment building by disclosing security or emergency procedures, that it would create a safety risk to the public by disclosing general security measures and investigative techniques and that the records were part of an ongoing investigation by a public agency.
Caputo provided no specific reasons for invoking the exemptions to the open-records act, says the AP’s lawsuit, which seeks release of the materials plus attorneys’ fees.
Caputo and a city attorney involved in the case didn’t return messages seeking comment Monday.
Last summer, Caputo denied a similar request pertaining to the June 2009 emergency call and discovery of the NYPD spying command center.
In a subsequent appeal to the New Jersey Government Records Council, an agency created to respond to inquiries and complaints about the open-records law, the AP’s counsel sought an explanation for the denial and noted that according to a police report on the response to the 911 call there was “no evidence of criminal activity found at that location.”
A case manager at the state Government Records Council in Trenton, Darryl Rhone, said last week that appeals are considered in the order they are received and that the AP’s appeal would take six months to be reviewed.