Most details of the police investigation into the 1998 murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99 can remain secret, a state Freedom of Information Commission case officer has recommended.
The Hartford Courant and Jeff Mitchell, a friend of former Yale lecturer James Van de Velde ’82, filed formal requests for the release of the New Haven Police Department’s Jovin case file in April. Case officer Barbara Housen completed her private inspection of the entire file in late August and recommended that only a tiny portion be released.
Police have said there are a “pool of suspects” in the case, but Van de Velde, Jovin’s senior essay adviser, is the only one they have acknowledged.
The full five-member commission will rule on the request Sept. 26, but the recommendation of the case officer is generally upheld.
Housen recommended that copies of newspaper and Internet articles and a memorandum concerning the release request contained in the file be made public. Releasing the rest of the file, Housen said in her ruling, would be prejudicial to “prospective law enforcement action” in the Jovin case.
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act requires that state and local government documents be publicly available upon request, although it also allows for several exceptions. Law enforcement records can be kept confidential if the information could be used in a prospective law enforcement action or if the their release could endanger witnesses.
Mitchell and Ralph Elliot, the Courant’s attorney in the case, both expressed disbelief that so much of the file could have fallen under this exception.
“I find it incredible to believe that in 4,500 pages of the Police Department’s file, there isn’t a paragraph, there isn’t a sentence, there isn’t a word that upon inspection she believes could be disclosed to the public without prejudicing the ongoing investigation,” Elliot said.
Mitchell said he was disappointed that Housen did not even release an index of the material to use in appealing the ruling point by point.
“We were told we could haggle over specific pieces of information at the appeal,” he said. “We got nothing even to haggle over.”
Mitchell also questioned why Housen did not respond directly to his request for information shared with Andy Rosenzweig, a private investigator hired by Yale who has had access to NHPD documents.
Jovin was found stabbed 17 times near the corner of East Rock and Edgehill roads, about two miles north of Old Campus, at about 10 p.m. on Dec. 4, 1998.
Mitchell has been working with Van de Velde in a private effort to solve the case, which they say has been completely mishandled by the police.
At the commission hearing this month, which both Mitchell and Elliot said they intend to attend, each party will have no more than 10 minutes to speak.
Once the commission rules, the losing party can appeal the decision in state Superior Court, although no new evidence or witnesses may be introduced. Elliot said the Courant management has not yet decided whether to pursue such a step.
Mitchell expressed concern over the financial cost of a court case, but said even if the Courant drops out of the case, he will still try to pursue it.