The Framingham Police Department has refused to release reports related to an incident in which a man had his phone seized by police officers after he tried to record them allegedly using excessive force on a handcuffed man last July. According to The MetroWest Daily News, Richard Porter began recording Framingham police with his cellphone after he allegedly saw them “slamming [a] man’s head face down into the pavement”:
Porter said he witnessed the beating and went inside to get his cellphone. He had started recording the aftermath, when an officer grabbed him and "slammed" him into a cruiser. The officer Porter said was slamming Reyes’ head into the ground told the other officer to take his phone.
"They gave me a choice. They said we’ll either put you under arrest and we’ll get a warrant for the phone or you can just give us the phone," said Porter. "After the fact, after they confiscated the phone, a sergeant came over and he’s swearing at me. He got in my face and said, ‘Instead of videotaping us, why didn’t you go over there and help him.’ "
The incident began... when police went to Harmony Lane for a report of a man having a bad reaction to drugs, police spokesman Lt. Stephen Cronin said. Officers encountered [Jonel] Reyes, who was naked and exhibiting behavior like someone who had taken bath salts, a drug that can cause hallucinations and violent outbursts.
Cronin said officers began struggling with Reyes, who fought them as they tried to take him into protective custody. During the struggle, officers sprayed him twice with pepper spray and fought with him to get him handcuffed. Reyes was taken to the MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham to be treated, Cronin said.
Reyes was not arrested at the time, but police said they will charge him with assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Reyes had been arrested Sunday in Framingham on a Westborough District Court warrant that charged him with driving without a license.
Porter later filed a complaint with the police department, telling The MetroWest Daily News that “The interview went really well.” His phone was returned to him, but there was no video on it. Porter said he wasn't sure if he had successfully recorded anything.
Last month, The Bay State Examiner requested the incident report and internal affairs report related to the case. Earlier today, the police department denied the request.
“After consulting with Assistant to Chief [Kenneth] Ferguson, Mr Brian Simoneau, Esq, I am denying the release of both the incident report and as well as the associated Internal Affairs Investigative report at this time under the Public Records law citing exemption (f), the law enforcement exemption because, due to the pendency of the case, the disclosure may prejudice effective law enforcement,” Lieutenant Stephen A. Cronin said. He later added that “The exception references a civilian defendant,” presumably Jonel Reyes.
The public records law puts the burden on law enforcement agencies to show how the investigatory exemption applies to government records. According to the guide drafted by the Supervisor of Records, “A records custodian must demonstrate a prejudice to investigative efforts in order to withhold requested materials.”
Cronin himself already provided basic narrative details about the incident to The MetroWest Daily News and the police department even released Jonel Reyes' mugshot, so it is unclear how releasing the reports would “prejudice effective law enforcement.” When asked how the release of the records would harm the police department's investigation, Cronin did not provide an answer.
The public records law also mandates that government agencies respond to records requests within 10 days, but Cronin waited 17 days before responding to our request. The request was sent on February 24, but he did not respond until today.
We plan to challenge the police department's decision by filing an appeal with the Supervisor of Records.