After repeated denials, Patch Media Corporation is suing for the release of dashboard camera footage from Fourth District state Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s July 31 DWI arrest.
The complaint was filed Friday in state Superior Court; it accuses Washington Township, its police records custodian and its solicitor of violating the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA), which makes official documents and materials open for public inspection.
Patch Media (the parent corporation of every Patch site nationwide) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gloucester Township Patch, which has attempted to access the footage since shortly after Moriarty’s arrest.
The suit names as defendants: Washington Township; Capt. Richard Leonard, records custodian for the Washington Township Police Department; and John Armano, Washington Township solicitor. (Click on the PDF, right, to read the complaint.)
Moriarty’s high-profile arrest quickly became a war of words, in which the assemblyman accused Washington Township Officer Joseph Dibuonaventura of abusing his authority in pulling him over.
Moriarty submitted to a field sobriety test, but later refused to provide a breath sample at the police station.
Given the divergent accounts, Gloucester Township Patch attempted to access Dibuonaventura’s dashboard camera footage immediately after the arrest.
Sean McCullen, editor of Gloucester Township Patch, first filed an open public records request with the police department July 31. Police records custodian Leonard rejected the request one week later “because the records you seek are of an investigation in progress and therefore exempt,” the denial letter to McCullen states.
In follow-up requests, Patch regional editor Tim Zatzariny Jr. argued that the contents of the tape are a matter of public interest. Those requests were also denied, with solicitor Armano citing an ongoing investigation and maintaining that “any release could compromise that investigation.”
None of the denials received by Gloucester Township Patch disputed the existence of the dashboard footage.
The complaint filed by Patch asks a judge to compel Washington Township to release any video and to declare that the record request denials a violation of OPRA and the laws of right access. Armano had not received word of the suit Monday and declined to comment.
Moriarty is awaiting trial on the DWI charge. The case was moved to Cumberland County and has been delayed twice. He is scheduled to appear in Bridgeton Municipal Court Nov. 8.