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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Breaking from his previous practices, the spokesman for the city's police deparment has refused to identify the perpetrator of an apparent domestic violence assault on June 26.
New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) Captain JT Miller confirmed that there was indeed an assault that night at approximately 11:30pm. But he said little else about the incident, even though the police were involved.
Miller did not say whether anyone was arrested in the incident, which occurred at 173 Throop Avenue, according to emergency radio transmissions.
"Upon their arrival they confirmed a domestic violence assault occurred between two adults," said Miller. "Pursuant to NJSA 2C:25-33, domestic violence records are not subject to release. Thank you for your interest in this matter."
If someone was arrested, open government advocates believe that the police simply have no choice but to tell anyone who wants to know the identity of the "defendant."
"If any adult was arrested, the name of the person who was arrested should be disclosed to the public," said attorney Walter Luers.
Luers heads of the NJ Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) and has successfully forced the City of New Brunswick to comply with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by helping this reporter file lawsuits in 2014 and in 2016.
Under one part of OPRA, a statute known as NJSA 47:1A-3(b), police must provide not only government records, but also certain "information" for every arrest made.
Even if no one is arrested, the law still requires police provide information "as to the type of crime, time, location and type of weapon, if any."
But, in most cases, what the law means is that police must identify the people they arrest, as well as their victims and any other "complaining parties."
An exception can be–and often is–made for victims of domestic violence, but the same exception does not apply to alleged perpetrators of domestic violence.
As recently as December 28, Miller provided NBToday with the name and a domestic violence charge filed against someone in response to a 3(b) request.
"Jorge Ferrer (29 year old male from New Brunswick) was arrested and charged with simple assault stemming from a domestic violence incident on Remsen Avenue occurring around 2:00am on December 25, 2015."
Unlike a standard OPRA request, which can take up to seven business days to get a response, police are required to provide the public information required by so-called "3(b)" requests be made "available to the public within 24 hours or as soon as practicable, of a request for such information."
Just a few days earlier, Miller had clarified the distinction between standard OPRA requests and 3(b) requests.
"If you are looking for information as it pertains to NJSA 47:1A-3(b) as opposed to records which are maintained and will fall under the purview of OPRA, then you can make the request to me," said Miller.
OPRA's 3(b) section specifically states that defendant, victim and complaining party information does not have to be released if doing so "would be contrary to existing law or court rule."
So, Miller cites NJ's 1991 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which says: "All records maintained pursuant to this act shall be confidential and shall not be made available to any individual or institution except as otherwise provided by law."
But that law only applies to some of the court "records," not police "information."
The change in policy comes less than a week after Miller, without citing any law or court rule, refused to identity a man who he accused of stabbing a 17-year-old boy in a knifefight between the two.
"The identity of the second individual is being withheld as its release could compromise the identity of the juvenile," wrote Miller, who also did not disclose the identity of the juvenile.
In that case, NBT also revealed that Miller had given other media outlets misleading information about the location of the double-stabbing, which occurred on Comstock Street between Jones and Commercial Avenue.
Pressed to identify the adult defendant and confirm the actual location of the incident, Miller responded: "I have released all of the information I am prepared to release at this time."
For nearly a week, Miller has not responded to a number of follow-up questions, including whether or not he had previously violated the 1991 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act by releasing the names of those accused of domestic violence offenses.
Editor's Note: Walter Luers is currently representing the author of this article in lawsuits against the City of New Brunswick, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office and the New Brunswick Housing Authority.