Tribal police not required to release reports of noncriminal activity

Mashantucket — The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police Department appears to be within its right to withhold a report of its investigation of a woman’s fall last month from an escalator at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

The casino patron later died of her injuries.

A spokeswoman for the tribe, which owns Foxwoods, said that because the incident involved no criminal activity, the tribal police department is not required to disclose its report of the investigation, a position supported by a 2014 “memorandum of agreement” signed by the tribe and the state and interviews with the chief state’s attorney and a spokesman for the state Freedom of Information Commission.

Unlike municipal police departments, which typically disclose information about the noncriminal incidents they handle, the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribal police departments face no legal requirement that they do so. Nor are the tribal departments subject to the state Freedom of Information Act, according to Thomas Hennick, the commission’s public education officer.

“I’m not aware of anything that says they are,” Hennick said Friday.

As a result, few details of the fatal fall have emerged.

William Dittman, chief of the Mashantuckets’ tribal police department, referred The Day’s initial inquiry about the Oct. 24 incident to spokeswomen for the tribe and Foxwoods. A Boston-based public relations firm then issued a statement on Foxwoods’ behalf, only saying that “a patron injury occurred shortly after 1 a.m. to which emergency personnel and tribal police immediately responded.” The firm subsequently confirmed that the woman was taken to a local hospital.

After first indicating that a report of an investigation of the incident would be available upon request, the tribe’s director of communications, Lori Potter, said that would not be the case.

“Under the MOA with the State of Connecticut, we have agreed to release information on criminal matters. Non-criminal matters are not covered in the agreement, and we are therefore unable to comment further on the incident out of respect for our patrons and families involved,” Potter said in a statement Wednesday.

The agreement, signed Aug. 1, 2014, bears the signatures of the Mashantuckets’ chairman, Rodney Butler, and the commissioner of the Connecticut department that oversees the state police, Dora Schriro. About two months earlier, Schriro had signed a similar agreement with the Mohegan Tribe’s chairman, Kevin Brown. The agreements established the tribal police departments’ authority to police their reservations, which include their respective casinos: Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

At the time, the expectation among many familiar with the agreements was that the tribal departments would operate like municipal police departments, including in regard to the disclosure of incident reports. In fact, the state’s MOAs with the tribes state that the tribal police departments “shall be subject to and comply with all requirements applicable to municipal police departments ... related to law enforcement activities and retention and disclosure of criminal investigation records and arrest data.”

The MOAs do not address police reports pertaining to noncriminal matters.

Since the MOAs took effect, the tribal police departments have provided access to their arrest logs and information about criminal activity.

Mohegan officials were unavailable this past week to discuss what information they might additionally disclose regarding noncriminal activity the Mohegan tribal police handle.

Kevin Kane, Connecticut's chief state’s attorney, whose office approved the MOAs, said that in regard to the disclosure of investigation reports, the tribal police departments are bound by the same “rules and laws” that apply to municipal departments when it comes to criminal matters. He referred questions about the disclosure requirements in the case of reports of noncriminal matters to the Freedom of Information Commission.

In keeping with protocol, the Mashantucket police department notified the New London state’s attorney’s office of the Oct. 24 fall at Foxwoods and provided the office with surveillance footage of the incident, according to Michael Regan, the New London state’s attorney. While declining to discuss specifics of what the footage shows, he confirmed that the incident appeared to be an accident.

“All police departments are requested to report any untimely death,” Regan said. “If an incident looks accidental, they’d ask us if we think it’s an accident. ... We’d be waiting on an autopsy report, too.” Like Kane, he said he understood that the purpose of the state’s MOAs with the tribal police departments was to “make them act the same as any other municipal police department.”

Louis Fusaro Jr., chief of Groton Town police, said his department complies with Freedom of Information Act requirements regarding reports of both noncriminal and criminal activity, as municipal police departments typically do.

“If there’s any ambiguity (regarding a request for information), we’d research it extensively on our end, consult the town attorney and the Freedom of Information Commission, if necessary, to get additional guidance,” he said.

Fusaro noted that municipal departments regularly release reports of traffic accidents that involve no criminality. State police do the same. Hennick, the FOIC spokesman, said such reports, as well as state and municipal police reports about other incidents not involving arrests, are public records subject to the same exemptions as other records.

“For example,” Hennick wrote in an email, “if police were first responders and administered medical treatment to a victim, at least a portion of the report describing the treatment could be redacted.” 

While the Mashantuckets denied access to the report of the tribal police department’s investigation of the Oct. 24 fall at Foxwoods, a casino spokeswoman commented on Foxwoods' approach to safety.

“The safety and security of our guests and team members are of paramount importance to Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation,” Ashley Polo wrote in an email. “Along with a constant Tribal Police presence, the Surveillance and Security Departments monitor the entire property, both in person and through thousands of cameras, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, Certified Emergency Medical Technicians are located throughout the property and are poised to respond should a need arise."

“Foxwoods has always focused on, and takes great pride in, providing the safest and most secure environment possible for both guests and team members,” Polo said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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