Court: Prosecutor's office owes media groups more than $100K
Mar. 02, 2018
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey county prosecutor's office must pay two news organizations more than $100,000 in attorneys' fees in a dispute over the recording of a 911 call involving a fatal police-involved shooting, an appeals court ruled Friday.
The call was made in January 2015 before police shot and killed a knife-wielding man in his Old Bridge residence. The news organizations sought the 911 tape under the state's Open Public Records Act.
The Middlesex County prosecutor's office sought to block the release of the call on the grounds that it revealed personal information. The office eventually released an edited version after a judge denied its request to keep the tape private.
The Home News-Tribune and NJ Advance Media had argued the entire call was a matter of public interest because it involved a person who was killed by police. They also argued that the identity of the caller was public information, therefore pre-empting any argument based on privacy concerns.
Friday's ruling by a three-judge appellate panel upheld a judge's 2015 decision that awarded about $71,000 in costs and attorneys' fees to the Home News-Tribune and about $39,000 to NJ Advance Media.
"There is ample support in the record for the judge's determination that the newspapers were prevailing parties under OPRA and, thus, entitled to recover legal fees and costs," the judges wrote.
An attorney representing the prosecutor's office didn't return a message seeking comment Friday.
According to an investigation by the prosecutor's office, officers responded to a 911 call of a domestic disturbance and found 75-year-old Talbot Schroeder armed with a knife. Schroeder repeatedly ignored police commands to drop it, and threatened the officer with the knife, according to the report. He had already exhibited a willingness to use it by slitting his wrists and stabbing himself.
The officer, who wasn't named, shot Schroeder after the officer was forced into a position against a wall in which he could not retreat, the report concluded. The report found the officer was justified in using force.