Patch Media Corporation has filed suit in state Superior Court to force Washington Township to release police dashboard camera footage of state Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s arrest.
The complaint, filed Friday in Woodbury, accuses Washington Township (Gloucester County), its police records custodian and its solicitor of violating New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, which makes official documents and materials open for public inspection. Moriarty, a Fourth District state assemblyman, was arrested in Washington Township on July 31 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
Patch Media filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gloucester Township Patch, whose editors have 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 case of he said, he said. Officer Joseph Dibuonaventura said Moriarty cut him off on the Black Horse Pike, displaying signs of intoxicated driving. Moriarty submitted to a field sobriety test, but refused to provide a breath sample at the police station.
The assemblyman said he hadn’t consumed alcohol that day and insisted “… this entire episode was an abuse of power.”
Given the divergent accounts, Gloucester Township Patch attempted to access Dibuonaventura’s dashboard camera footage immediately after the arrest. Sean McCullen, Gloucester Township Patch’s editor, first filed an open public records request with the police department on 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, Tim Zatzariny Jr., Patch regional editor, argued that the tape’s release was in the public’s 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 denied the existence of the dashboard footage.
Patch’s complaint asks a judge to compel Washington Township to release any video and to declare that record request denials violated New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and the laws of right access.
Armano had not received the complaint as of Monday and declined to comment.
Moriarty is awaiting trial on the driving while intoxicated charge. The case was moved to Cumberland County and has been delayed twice. He is scheduled to appear in Bridgeton Municipal Court Nov. 8.