City denies request for body, dashcam footage

In response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for a number of documents related to Mayor Samson Steinman’s two automobile crashes in recent months, the city denied a request for dashboard and body camera footage while providing police reports and other documents.

Last month, I requested police reports, invoices for auto repairs, and dashboard and body camera footage related to the Aug. 26 and March 18 incidents in which the mayor struck parked cars while operating a city vehicle. The city provided most everything requested, with the exception of dashboard camera and body camera footage.

In a letter accompanying documents provided, City Clerk Rayna Harris explained the the denial of dashboard camera and body camera footage of the March 18 incident. “There is no governing legal precedent in New Jersey regarding the issue of whether body camera or Motor Vehicle Recorder (MVR) (i.e., “dashboard”) videos should be disclosed in response to a records request. The appeals of two contradictory Appellate Division opinions on the issue of MVR videos…are still pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court,” Harris wrote in her response. The two contradictory opinions are North Jersey Media Group, Inc., v. Township of Lyndhurst and Paff v. Ocean County.

Until this issue has been resolved and legal precedent established, the city will not disclose any body camera video or MVR video that involves a matter current under investigation if disclosure could be inimical to the public interest on the basis that such videos constitute records pertaining to an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office. To date, the city has received no report from the Prosecutor’s Office indicating that either investigation has been completed,” she wrote.

May 11 UPDATE: Mark Spivey, a spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office, said the office “does not confirm or deny the existence of or details about, investigations of this nature.”

In response to the city’s denial of footage, C.J. Griffin of Hackensack-based law firm Pashman Stein Walder and Hayden filed a complaint in Union County Superior Court on behalf of this website.

Here’s everything the city provided in response to my original OPRA request:

For the August incident, the mayor was cited with driving with an expired license and was charged with careless driving and failing to exhibit documents for the March crash.

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