Case Name: LFTG v. Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, et al.
Docket Number: MID-L-005006-16
County / Vicinage: Middlesex
Filing Date: August 26, 2016
Presiding Judge: Francis, Travis L.
This lawsuit seeks records pertaining to the June 2, 2016 death of Daniel Nagahama. The only information thus far released about the twenty-eight year old man’s death is contained in the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s (MCPO) June 4, 2016 press release entitled “Man dies hours after struggle with police.” The press release states only that Nagahama “was found on South Fifth Avenue in Highland Park on June 2, 2016 at 5:15 p.m” and that he was pronounced dead at 8:28 p.m. at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital after “he became belligerent and struggled with” unnamed police officers who “had revived him.”
The MCPO denied Libertarians for Transparent Government’s (LFTG) request for the police incident reports and Use of Force Reports related to the incident claiming that they are Criminal Investigatory Records and thus exempt in accordance with the Appellate Division’s June 11, 2015 ruling in North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Township of Lyndhurst. The MCPO also refused to name the officers who had interacted with Nagahama and denied as “unduly burdensome” LFTG’s request for case-related e-mails and texts sent or received by MCPO employees during a 17-day period surrounding Nagahama’s death.
In her brief, LFTG’s lawyer, Hackensack attorney CJ Griffin, argued that the Lyndhurst case (the case relied upon by the MCPO) was wrongly decided and that Judge Francis ought to instead follow the Appellate Division’s June 30, 2016 conflicting opinion in John Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Griffin wrote that the Lyndhurst case, which is being reviewed by the New Jersey Supreme Court, “has essentially shut down access to all law enforcement records that even tangentially relate to criminal investigations.” She wrote that Judge Francis is free to follow either the Lyndhurst or the Ocean County Prosecutor decision until the matter is resolved by the Supreme Court.
The Borough of Highland Park was also named in the lawsuit because LFTG also requested records from the Borough’s police department that related to Nagahama’s death. In its response, the Borough said that it “has been instructed by the MCPO to not release any documents while the MCPO’s investigation is pending. As the MCPO is the lead law enforcement agency for Middlesex County, the Borough must follow this order, and accordingly cannot release any documents independently.”
Complaint and Brief
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