Despite a recent Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission decision to the contrary, the New Haven Police Department might not have to release thousands of pages from the Suzanne Jovin ’99 murder investigation case file just yet.
Accusing the FOI Commission of making an “arbitrary, unsupportable and capricious” decision in its February ruling ordering the NHPD to make public a substantial portion of the Jovin file, State’s Attorney Michael Dearington filed an appeal of the order in Superior Court last Thursday and asked the court to keep the files sealed pending the appeal.
“As a result of the [commission’s] decision, plaintiff’s ability to effectively investigate and prosecute criminal matters in accordance with his constitutional and statutory mandates as well as his discretion is seriously impaired,” Dearington wrote in the appeal.
Dearington said the commission exceeded its authority in ordering the file’s release, as well as violating its own regulations by appointing one of its own members to go over the file again even though he had not been present at the original hearing.
The appeal came just two days before the March 30 deadline for appeals, a month and a half after the commission ordered the disclosure.
The now year-long FOI dispute started when the Hartford Courant and Jeff Mitchell — a longtime friend of James Van de Velde ’82, who was Jovin’s thesis adviser and is still the only named suspect in the case — petitioned the commission to force the NHPD to turn over the documents.
Barbara Housen, a hearing officer for the FOI Commission, denied the request, saying that publicizing the Jovin documents might damage the NHPD investigation.
But the commission agreed to re-examine the case at an appeal hearing late last year. After concluding a complete review of the extensive file in February, FOI Commissioner Dennis E. O’Connor said the NHPD’s use of a blanket exemption from the FOI law for the entire file was unwarranted. The full commission accepted his report unanimously and ordered the department to release the documents.
“Dearington is not fooling anyone in arguing the public’s right to know about this whole sordid affair would jeopardize a case everyone acknowledges is ice cold,” Mitchell wrote in an e-mail. “On the contrary, being forthright with the public may even help solve it.”
Dearington declined to comment Wednesday evening, saying his office does not speak about pending cases. Roger Dobris, another state’s attorney who helped write the appeal, also refused to comment.
In addition to seeking to overturn the decision, Dearington also used the appeal to attack O’Connor’s conclusion that NHPD Lt. Bryan Norwood had provided testimony that was “not credible” about whether the file had been shared with Andrew Rosenzweig, a private investigator hired by Yale to re-examine the case.
At the hearing, O’Connor said it was implausible that Rosenzweig would not have been allowed to see the file because, he said, “There is nothing unusual about a private investigator gaining access to a police file.” O’Connor also said that a letter in the Jovin file implied that Rosenzweig had indeed had access to it, contradicting Norwood’s testimony that the investigator had received only verbal descriptions of its contents.
In his appeal, Dearington called O’Connor’s criticism of Norwood “unsupported by the record and clearly erroneous.”
Jovin, a senior majoring in political science, was found on the night of Dec. 4, 1998, in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood — about 1.5 miles from Yale’s campus — suffering from 17 stab wounds to her neck and back.