ACLU-NH files complaint against Salem for alleged Right-to-Know fee violationBy MELISSA PROULX
Union Leader Correspondent
February 11. 2018 11:56PM
SALEM — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire has filed a complaint against the town after they claim the Salem Police Department tried to wrongly charge them for copies of reports.
On May 25, 2017, the ACLU filed a Right-to-Know request with the town’s police department for records of immigration policy and enforcement, according to the complaint filed with Rockingham County Superior Court.
The ACLU was looking specifically for “all records relating to or referencing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP aka Border Patrol), as well as their employees, created from Nov. 1, 2016 to the start of the Department’s search for the records,” according to the request included as evidence in the complaint.
A fee waiver was also sent in at the time, according to court documents.
Five days later, the department’s record supervisor replied that a non-waivable $15 fee was required. The department said the fee covers the cost of labor for compiling the documents, according to the complaint.
On the police department’s website, it says requests for copies of incident or accident reports cost $15. A fee schedule included as evidence in the complaint also states that insurance reports cost $15.
The ACLU replied that RSA 91-A — the state’s law on access to government records and public meetings — states that the cost “must be tailored to the actual costs of production (i.e., copy costs)”, according to court documents.
In all, the ACLU was to receive eight reports at $15 each, which police would not release until the fee was paid, according to court documents.
On June 16, 2017, Salem Police Chief Paul Donovan sent a letter to the ACLU letting them know about the fee for the reports. At that time, he did also send 10 emails from ICE and one from Homeland Security, which was also part of the request, according to court documents.
In July, the department once again replied that the fee was standard procedure, according to court documents.
“The Salem Police Department charges $15 per report, whether it is an accident report, insurance report or just a regular police incident report,” wrote Deputy Chief James Chase in an email to Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU.
Since then, the issue has not been resolved, according to the complaint.
The ACLU is asking that the court find the fee unlawful and require the department not use it in the future, as well as produce the reports the request asked for, according to the complaint.
The complaint was filed on Friday with Rockingham County Superior Court.
The ACLU's petiton can be viewed below. For a look at the ACLU's exhibits in the case, click here.