West Seneca police officials are showing a brazen disregard for the law by insisting that their “procedures” trump state rules requiring public documents to be made public.
This type of maneuvering around the public’s right to know is unacceptable and should be examined by town leaders.
Some details have emerged about the two-car crash last month that claimed the life of West Seneca Democratic Chairman Daniel S. McParlane. Much of what we know came from Town Court, and even then only because The News threatened to take legal action. Police continue their indefensible refusal to release what should be public documents.
Robert J. Styn Jr. was charged with driving while intoxicated after the Nov. 27 crash on Indian Church Road that killed McParlane, who also was a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Erie County Holding Center.
In the aftermath of the crash, town police and court officials refused to release what should be public documents connected with Styn’s arrest. It wasn’t until The News threatened legal action that the state Office of Court Administration intervened, explaining that the documents are public records, that the West Seneca Court Clerk’s Office finally agreed to provide the information.
West Seneca police continue to hold back any information beyond the four-sentence news release issued the day of the crash. Officials try to explain away their stonewalling by claiming they are following “procedure.” Whose procedure? Well, apparently theirs and that of other municipalities that ignore basic Freedom of Information Law responsibilities.
This should not be a difficult decision for police.
“Basic information should be available,” said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government. “Certainly, the police blotter or its equivalent should be routinely disclosed.” He said the intent of the Freedom of Information Law is to make public such documents “whenever and wherever feasible.”
Besides health privacy laws that prevent disclosure of toxicology test results to the public, as cited by the district attorney, basic information surrounding the accident should not be shrouded in secrecy. Even still, it remains possible that such findings could be revealed during the course of a trial.
Through it all, the police have stuck to their cryptic public news release, in which the department offered that weather conditions might have contributed to the accident.
Records finally obtained from court indicate Styn was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated because of high blood alcohol content. Styn told police that he had “a few beers” at the home of a friend.
The police refusal to release records in the case is baffling because eventually officials will have to divulge what they are trying to keep secret. Their inability to realize this outcome makes it appear they have something to hide.
This case is ongoing, but basic information that involves the public’s right to know should not be withheld.