Assignment Judge Rules in Favor of Candidate Charlie Kratovil
Middlesex County’s Assignment Judge ordered the New Brunswick city government to produce records related to the March 20 arrest of a police officer, overruling the administration’s decision to deny requests filed by a reporter who is running for Mayor of New Brunswick.
The July 11 ruling in Kratovil v. City of New Brunswick (docket #MID-L-3668-18) marks another victory for Charlie Kratovil, the award-winning journalist who founded New Brunswick Today, the city’s bilingual community newspaper. Kratovil declared his candidacy for Mayor last month, shortly after filing the lawsuit.
During the brief hearing on July 11, Judge Rivas took issue with the city government’s interpretation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which the city had argued should prevent the release of several critically important public records in a criminal case against Edison Police Officer Paul Pappas.
Pappas was arrested on March 20 after he allegedly slashed the tires of a car parked in downtown New Brunswick. According to a report by NJ.com’s Craig McCarthy, multiple sources indicated that Pappas was on-duty and drove an unmarked Edison police vehicle to commit the crime.
Even though authorities determined the crime was a domestic violence incident, Pappas was released on his own recognizance that same night by the New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD), where his brother is employed as a Lieutenant.
The day after the arrest, Kratovil requested a number of records, including audio and video recordings related to the criminal case. But New Brunswick supplied only the redacted arrest report, which includes few details and cites an additional report that the city refused to release.
“The public has a right to know how the NBPD handled this case of alleged police misconduct, and whether or not the defendant was given special treatment,” said Kratovil.
Initially charged with criminal mischief by the NBPD, Officer Pappas has since been accused of more serious crimes by county authorities, including stalking and using his access to confidential police databases to target his victim, as well as profiting from a no-show job scheme that allegedly involved at least four other Edison officers.
The March 21 records request, filed under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), requested copies of all criminal complaints, summonses, warrants, CAD reports, incident reports, arrest reports, other reports, 911 recordings, radio transmissions, MVR recordings, and other video/audio recordings related to the criminal mischief charge against Pappas.
After unsuccessfully urging the NBPD to reconsider their unlawful denial of the request in April, Kratovil was left with no choice but to pursue the matter in Superior Court. The lawsuit was filed on June 4 in Middlesex County Superior Court.
“The city was wrong to claim that the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act allows them to keep secret the NBPD’s records of Officer Pappas’ arrest. We are pleased the Court rejected their argument and we look forward to receiving the records,” said Kratovil’s attorney, Walter Luers.
It’s not the first time that Luers and Kratovil have teamed up to use the legal system to fight secrecy at the NBPD. In 2014, an OPRA lawsuit filed by the duo led to the disclosure of police jurisdiction maps that the city government had tried to keep under wraps.