Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is suing the Boston Police Department for its refusal to release internal affairs records about fired police commissioner Dennis White.
Healey’s office filed the complaint Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court and is seeking the court’s confirmation that the documents are public records, and that the police department is obligated to release them.
“Our state’s public records law is in place to ensure an open, accessible, and accountable government,” Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey, said in a statement. “That’s especially important when it comes to promoting public confidence in law enforcement. Following repeated failures by the Boston Police Department to produce these records, we are seeking an order from the Court that they must be turned over.”
A spokesman for the Boston Police Department declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
In a statement Thursday, Boston Mayor Kim Janey thanked Healey “for taking this step.”
“I greatly value the public’s right to know the actions of its government, and I recognize the need to protect the right to privacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Janey said in the statement. “I respect the judgment of the Office of the Attorney General, and I’ve instructed the City’s Law Department and our Director of Public Records to determine what can be released in this circumstance.”
The complaint stems from a public records request made by NBC10 in March for White’s internal affairs records. White had been placed on leave in February as previous domestic violence allegations against him surfaced shortly after former mayor Martin Walsh appointed him as commissioner.
When NBC10 did not get a response from the department for two weeks, the news outlet appealed to the Supervisor of Public Records, who then ordered the department to respond to the outlet’s request on two occasions in March and May, according to the Attorney General’s complaint.
The department did not comply with either order, the lawsuit says, and the supervisor referred the issue to theattorney general’s office.
In June, Healey’s office sent a letter to the department ordering the release of the records or provide an explanation of why they have been withheld.
A week later, on June 9, the department responded to NBC10′s initial request from March by providing one case file of 140 pages with redactions. The department said it was withholding two other case files — one that was 56 pages long and the other was 39 pages — arguing that the files pertained to allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence and were exempt from disclosure.
The attorney general’s office pushed back, arguing that the department could redact confidential information in the files.
“The Police Department has made no showing that the requested records cannot be redacted to conceal the identity of any victims, enabling the release of the records,” the complaint says.
The complaint also cites a pair lawsuits filed by the Globe seeking the release of White’s internal affairs records and those of other Boston police officers.
In her statement, Janey said her administration is looking for ways to respond to public records requests more quickly.
“It is also clear that both the Police Department and the City overall need to increase their ability to respond to public records requests in a timely manner,” she said.
It is not the first time Healey has gone to court to enforce the state’s public records laws.
In 2016, she sued district attorneys representing Plymouth and Worcester counties and the Cape and Islands for refusing to comply with an order from Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office to give the Globe a list of cases they prosecuted. The case ended two years later when a Suffolk Superior Court judge sided with Healey’s office and ordered the records to be turned over.