, Salem, MA

August 30, 2013

Our view: Public deserves information in police shooting

The Salem News

---- — One week after a 37-year-old Danvers man was shot to death by police, the public is still in the dark about most of what happened that tragic night.

District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett has refused to release police reports about the incident and has refused to identify the police officer or officers who shot and killed Scott Kehoe.

He says the public will learn all this in good time, once he has finished his investigation.

And frankly, that’s not good enough.

It may be more convenient for investigators to do their jobs in secret and release all their findings at the end, but that’s not what the law says they should be doing.

Public records, including police reports, are supposed to be open to the public under the state’s public records laws. The law allows exemptions, but makes it clear that police may redact only specific information that would compromise an investigation if disclosed. The law is also clear that reports may be redacted — that is, specific material blacked out or withheld — but that is not an excuse for withholding the entire report.

Most troubling in this instance is the failure to identify the police officers involved in the shooting. Were the situation reversed, and a civilian had shot a police officer, we feel confident the shooter’s name would not continue to be a secret a week after the incident.

Releasing information does not imply that someone did something wrong. In fact, it assures the public that there is nothing to hide. And in a situation where investigators know exactly who was involved — they are all police officers, after all, and not criminal suspects who are liable to flee — it is hard to see any justification for the assertion that disclosing their names would, as the public records law puts it, “so prejudice the possibility of effective law enforcement that such disclosure would not be in the public interest.”

The DA should make that information available now.