Commonwealth Court panel affirms OOR denial of requested confidential informant police records

By Jon Campisi | Sep 4, 2012

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel has affirmed a decision by the state’s Office of Open Records that upheld a decision by the Pennsylvania State Police to turn down a request for information pertaining to policy regarding the use of confidential informants.

Last fall, Larry Adams sent the State Police a request for information involving training materials that a state trooper would receive on the use of confidential police informants.

His request was soon denied by the State Police’s Bureau of Records & Identification on the basis that the information sought fell under an exemption to the state’s Right-to-Know Law.

Adams was, however, granted his request for records concerning the training required for a state trooper.

Adams appealed the denial to the Office of Open records.

Two state police veterans submitted affidavits detailing why they believed the information sought by Adams, if made public, would be damaging to the law enforcement agency and could put informants in harms way.

On Dec. 1, 2011, the OOR issued a final determination and denied Adams’ appeal, reasoning that the State Police are right to be concerned that the release of such information could jeopardize the use of confidential informants and hinder the ability of law enforcement to make arrests.

Adams appealed to the Commonwealth Court, the state’s lower-tier appellate body, contending that the OOR and State Police “unilaterally” interpreted the law in such a way that violated his constitutional rights, including his right to confront witnesses and his right to due process.

Adams asserted that the police failed to present any evidence that would lead to the conclusion that the release of the requested information was exempt under the public safety exemption of the Right-to-Know Law.

The appellate panel, however, agreed with the OOR, which was satisfied with the affidavits that were submitted by the two State Police investigators that outlined the reasons why the request should be denied.

“This Court agrees that the affidavit supports the conclusion that the requested records are exempt from disclosure under the public safety exemption,” the Aug. 31 opinion states. “Adams argues that the affidavit is speculative in nature and lacks foundation. This Court does not agree.”

The opinion states that because the one affidavit, by a State Police captain, was based on the man’s 20 years of service and experience in investigations of crimes and criminal organizations, the affidavit was the result of such experience, and not “mere speculation or conjecture.”

The opinion was written by Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley. He was joined by Judges Robert Simpson and Patricia A. McCullough.

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