Police Union Denied Access To Investigation Of Deputy Chief

In January 2005, an officer in the South Portland, Maine Police Department filed a complaint with the City’s director of human resources. In his complaint, the officer named the deputy police chief, alleging harassment, discrimination, and a hostile work environment.

In response to the complaint, the director of human resources conducted an internal investigation. In March 2005, the director issued a report containing her findings. No disciplinary action was taken against the deputy chief as a result of the complaint.

In April 2005, the South Portland Police Patrol Association requested a copy of the report. When the City denied the request, the Association filed a lawsuit that ended up in the Maine Supreme Court.

The Court upheld the City’s decision to reject the Association’s request for the investigatory files. Maine’s Public Records Law provides general access to all governmental documents. One exception to the general rule of access is where the documents concern disciplinary investigations where no disciplinary action is eventually sustained.

The Court found that the investigation into the deputy chief fell squarely within the exemption from disclosure contained in the law. The Association argued that since the report was not physically placed in the deputy chief’s personnel file, the exemption from disclosure did not apply. The Court was not convinced, holding that “the statute does not require the City to allege where the report is physically kept. The location of the document has no bearing on its status under this statute.”

South Portland Police Patrol Association v. City of South Portland, 2006 WL 1229549 (Me. 2006).