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Court of Appeals Ruling Protects Confidentiality of OPC Records

Friday, November 17, 2006

(Washington, DC) On November 14, 2006, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) in a lawsuit challenging OPC’s ability to maintain the confidentiality of investigatory records while police misconduct complaints are open and under investigation.  The case is District of Columbia, et. al, v. John R. Little, Jr., Case No. 06 CV 292.

The agency’s investigative files often contain highly personal matters brought to OPC’s attention by citizens, as well as unproven allegations against Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers.  Release of such information before cases are fully and fairly resolved could compromise the agency’s investigations, chill citizens from cooperating, and stigmatize officers on the basis of unfounded charges.

The ruling by the Court of Appeals reversed an order by the District of Columbia Superior Court that had concluded that OPC could not withhold its investigatory records for complaints under investigation when they are requested under the District’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The court’s decision was based on the Office of Police Complaints Amendment Act of 2006, which took effect in September 2006.  This change to the law clarified that records gathered during an OPC investigation are exempt from disclosure under FOIA when releasing the documents would interfere with the investigation, affect the fair and impartial adjudication of a complaint, or constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. 

“We are very pleased with the change to the law and the ruling by the Court of Appeals,” said Philip K. Eure, OPC’s executive director.  “As a result, our agency can protect citizens and officers by maintaining the confidentiality of the complaints OPC investigates while these matters are under review.”