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Newspaper isn’t entitled to records in fatal shooting of stolen-car driver who rammed police cars, state court rules

Photo Credit: Various sources
Photo Credit: Various sources
Photo Credit: Various sources

UPDATE: A New Jersey state appeals court today ruled that the parent company of The Record newspaper isn’t entitled to certain records stemming from the fatal shooting of an ex-con who repeatedly rammed police vehicles with a stolen SUV in Rutherford following a chase.

“Most of the documents sought by the reporters fall within the criminal investigatory records exception, because they are ‘not required by law to be made, maintained or kept on file’ and they ‘pertain[] to any criminal investigation’,” the Appellate Division wrote in a 66-page ruling that reversed a lower-court decision that granted access to the records.

Kahad Ashford (MUGSHOTS: Various sources)

Kashad Ashford was out of prison 10 months — having served more than three years for aggravated assault and other charges — when police began following the stolen Nissan Armada containing him, fellow ex-con Jemmaine T. Bynes, a loaded .357-caliber Magnum handgun and a ski mask on Sept. 15 of last year, authorities said at the time.

Ashford drove the vehicle “recklessly through Lyndhurst and surrounding towns,” before crashing it on the River Road bridge over Route 3 in Rutherford, acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman said.

Lyndhurst, Rutherford and State Police converged on the SUV and Ashford put the car in reverse, spinning the tires of the vehicle until the roadway was filled with smoke, before ramming a Rutherford police cruiser trying to get away, a law enforcement source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the time.

Jemmaine T. Bynes

Officers repeatedly ordered him to stop and then shots were fired, the source said.

Ashford died hours later at Hackensack University Medical Center. Bynes was shot dead in Newark three months ago.

Reporters for North Jersey Media Group “seek documents that report officers’ daily activities, including CAD reports detailing information received by or from police dispatchers, log book notations, daily activity logs, daily bulletins, daily statistical sheets, tally sheets, and vehicle logs,” the appeals court decision issued today says.

“The requesters also seek various forms of audio and video recordings (as well as transcriptions), including recordings of the pursuit and shooting; communications among police officers and between police officers and others; and recordings made by mobile video recorders (MVRs),” it adds.

“The reporters also requested various reports or officer work product, including UFRs, police reports, incident reports, operation reports, investigation reports, offense reports, and supplemental reports.

“All of these documents are exempt,” the appeals judges wrote. “No law cited to the court required their creation or retention.

“They pertain to a criminal investigation, to the extent the entries concern or address an officer’s involvement in the search for the attempted burglary suspect, the pursuit of Ashford and Bynes once they were identified as suspects, the shooting of Ashford and arrest of Bynes, the subsequent investigational activities related to Bynes’s arrest, and the SRT investigation of the fatal shooting.”

The ruling overturns Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne’s January order out of Hackensack that the State Police, the then-Bergen County Police Department and police departments in Lyndhurst, North Arlington and Rutherford release the documents under the state’s Open Public Records Act (known as OPRA) and common-law access to records.

The appeals court said Doyne “misinterpreted OPRA’s provisions governing criminal investigatory records” and “erred in declining to consider the state’s [argument] of why releasing certain requested documents would undermine its investigation and [not serve] the public interest.”

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CLICK HERE to read the decision: North Jersey Media Group v. Township[s] of Lyndhurst, Borough of North Arlington, Bergetn County Police Department, New Jersey State Police, et. al.
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In a response published on the news organization’s web site, senior counsel Robert D. Thompson says: “The court’s decision inflicts a devastating loss of transparency on the public’s ability to obtain any information regarding police use of deadly force. The decision eliminates access to records that were routinely made available by the police, and is particularly troublesome given the national spotlight on the use of deadly force by police.”

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