Worcester Telegram & Gazette wages year-long battle over redacted files for city police officer

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By Jay Whearley, watchdog team editor, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.

Lawyers for the city of Worcester and the Telegram & Gazette have completed their review of records from four internal Police Department investigations involving a Worcester police officer and expect the documents to be turned over to the newspaper soon.

The T&G had sued the city and Police Chief Gary J. Gemme for those records as well as six other case files involving Officer Mark A. Rojas, a 14-year-veteran with the department. Originally requested in April 2008, more than 1,110 pages of documents were delivered to the newspaper seven months later.

However, 764 of those pages – the entire contents of the four case files reviewed by the lawyers – were totally redacted. The T&G went to court on Dec. 17, 2008, seeking an order compelling the police department to provide unredacted records.

Superior Court Judge C. Brian McDonald took the matter under advisement following a Jan. 15, 2009, hearing. T&G lawyers maintained the public has the right to know about allegations of misconduct by a police officer, while city lawyers argued that right is outweighed by the privacy rights of those who want their complaints to be confidential.

On Jan. 10, 2010, Judge McDonald ordered that T&G lawyers be allowed to review the four case files in order to formulate arguments on why specific information in those files should be made public. The judge’s ruling came the day after the T&G published an article quoting several legal authorities as saying his near year-long delay in issuing a ruling was unusual.

The records to be released as a result of the review are expected to be much less heavily redacted.

Officer Rojas remains on the Police Department payroll, although Chief Gemme has stripped him of his license to carry a firearm. The T&G has learned that Officer Rojas has been the subject of at least 15 internal police misconduct investigations since joining the department in 1996.

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