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An administrative appeal recently dismissed in New Britain, Conn., Superior Court provides a good illustration of the way Megan’s Law works, according to attorney Clifton Leonhardt. Leonhardt, an attorney for the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), said that the statutes codifying Megan’s Law were upheld when Judge Michael Hartmere ruled to dismiss in Chief of Police/Town of Windham v. FOIC. He added that he thought the case provided a great example for study. “I think the issue of law won’t be repeated,” Leonhardt said. “But the fact of circumstance could be.” Hartmere’s Jan. 12 ruling supported a previous decision made by the FOIC, which ruled that the Windham Police Department violated the law by not releasing records to the media, even though police said the action could have jeopardized an ongoing murder investigation. In 1998, police were investigating the death of an 11-year-old Willimantic, Conn., girl, Angelica Padilla, who was allegedly killed by a neighbor while delivering newspapers in her neighborhood. At the time of the investigation, members of the media had requested police records in connection with the case, namely the most current list of sexual offenders registered with the department as required by Megan’s Law. Megan’s Law, enacted in 1994 after a New Jersey girl was raped and killed by a released convict in her neighborhood, has since been amended to allow the public full access to police sex offender registry lists via the Internet. After being denied their request for the information, the media, including the Norwich Bulletin and Fox 61 News, filed complaints with the FOIC, alleging that the Freedom of Information Act had been violated. The police, who released the information after suspect Jose Antonio Torres was arrested for the murder, challenged the FOIC’s decision requiring disclosure of the public documents, stating that it would have revealed the identity and whereabouts of the prime suspect in a pending homicide investigation. Torres, who had previously pleaded guilty to a 1996 third-degree sexual assault for attacking his ex-girlfriend, was a neighbor of Padilla and was registered with the state’s sex-offender registry. “It was a tragic case to begin with,” Leonhardt said. “Emotions were running high on all sides.” Leonhardt said he respected the Windham police chief for doing “his duty as he saw it,” but added that Megan’s Law was intended to help the public protect themselves against future crime by being able to gain access to such records. “If [the media] looked at the sex offender list, [Torres] was the person who would have stood out,” Leonhardt said. “The media wanted to make their point that these records are public.” Mystic, Conn., attorney Richard Cody, who represented the Windham police, could not be reached for comment. According to Hartmere’s decision, the town and its police department argued that General Statutes 1-210 (b) exempted from disclosure records of law enforcement agencies compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime. They also claimed immunity from provisions of the FOIC because state statute says the Division of Criminal Justice “shall not be deemed to be a public agency in respect to administrative functions.” Hartmere wrote in his decision that he found unconvincing the town’s arguments that not only could releasing the information have jeopardized the investigation, but it could have resulted in severe harm against the perpetrator. “Here the records at issue were compiled pursuant to Megan’s Law and were not compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of a crime,” Hartmere wrote. He added that because such records were readily available to the public before the crime took place and that because such a registration list was not compiled in connection with the investigation of a crime, the disclosure exemptions under General Statures 1-210 (b) (3) were inapplicable. Hartmere acknowledged “the tremendous pressure felt” by the Windham police to make an arrest. He wrote that they acted in good faith by temporarily withholding the records, but concluded that the court was bound to apply the law nevertheless.

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