OLD SAYBROOK — The state Freedom of Information Commission last week ordered the town’s police department to release the exit interview of former Old Saybrook Patrolman Justin Hanna, but the department has so far declined to release the document.
Hanna, who left the Old Saybrook Police Department in May 2021, requested the release of his exit interview that June, according to the Freedom of Information Request’s final decision. After several follow-up emails, the department denied Hanna’s request on the grounds that releasing it would “constitute an invasion of Police Chief Michael Spera’s … personal privacy.”
According to the decision, town attorney Patrick McHale argued during a hearing that the exit interview should not be released because the interview contained “negative opinions” and “defamatory statements” that were designed to “discredit” Spera.
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“We believe that the exit interview attacks the police chief’s reputation and that of the Old Saybrook Police Department, and therefore the police chief has a legitimate expectation of privacy and properly believes that the disclosure would be highly offensive to him,” McHale told the commission in a meeting on July 13.
The decision notes that Hanna admitted during the hearing that the exit interview included “negative comments and opinions regarding Chief Spera and relayed negative experiences the complainant claimed to have had with the chief during his employment with the respondent police department.”
McHale added during the July 13 Commission meeting that the interview constituted a “personnel file” for Spera, which would be exempt from disclosure under freedom of information law.
But in the July 13 decision, the commission found that the documents were not exempt from disclosure and did not constitute an invasion of personal privacy.
“There is a legitimate public interest in these records, and after an in camera inspection, there was nothing in there that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person,” said hearing officer Thomas Hyde during the July 13 meeting.
In an email to Hanna dated July 15, Spera told Hanna that McHale would be in touch with him “after the town receives formal notification from the Freedom of Information Commission.”
Reached by phone, Police Commission Chair Alfred “Chub” Wilcox told CT Examiner he was not aware of the discussion surrounding the exit interview.
“The exit interview will either be released or the town will take an appeal within the appropriate time period,” Old Saybrook First Selectman Carl Fortuna told CT Examiner in an email.
McHale did not respond to requests for comment from CT Examiner.