AP seeks release of Elmore “Rip” Torn’s mug shot

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By Stephanie Reitz, reporter, Associated Press Hartford, Conn. bureau

Elmore “Rip” Torn’s mug shot was published far and wide when the actor was arrested in January 2010 on charges of breaking into a Connecticut bank while intoxicated and carrying a loaded handgun. But it was a mug shot from an arrest four years earlier in New York — not the booking shot that Connecticut state troopers took as the Emmy Award winner prepared to spend the weekend in a jail cell.

The Associated Press now awaits a hearing before the state Freedom of Information Commission, which will decide whether the Connecticut State Police violated open government laws by denying the news agency’s request for its booking shot.

The decision will have wide ramifications because the state police cited an internal policy as its justification for denying release of all mug shots, not just Torn’s.

The state police, the third largest law enforcement agency in New England, make thousands of arrests every year as its 1,200 troopers patrol state roads and serve as the primary police force in 82 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. That wide scope of coverage and its policy against releasing any mug shots puts a significant dent in access to public information statewide.

The AP is in the enviable position of being able to cite a precedent in this case, since the Journal Inquirer of Manchester won an FOI case three years ago against a town police department that refused to release booking shots. That department and other municipal agencies now routinely include mug shots with their news releases or provide them on request, recognizing that they are considered part of the arrest documents.

The AP has received strong support and encouragement in its FOI case from the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, WFSB Channel 3 in Hartford and Central Connecticut Communications, which owns the New Britain Herald and other newspapers. The AP believes a victory in the FOI case will be a significant step forward in public access to information for all media outlets and, by extension, the public they serve.

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