On June 2, 2015, Usaamah Rahim was shot and killed during an encounter with the Boston Police Department and the FBI. The Suffolk County District Attorney issued a report explaining its decision not to criminally charge the officers for killing Mr. Rahim, relying, in part, on documents it had received from the FBI. Desperate to understand more about the events leading up to her son’s death, Ms. Rahim filed a public records request with the District Attorney seeking information about its investigation into her son’s killing.
The District Attorney refused to provide any of the documents it had received from the FBI. The FBI had sent the records under a cover letter stating that they were “loaned” to the District Attorney and “remain[ed] the property of the FBI.” The District Attorney both claimed that the records fell outside the reach of the Massachusetts public records law because they were simply on loan from the FBI and asserted that the records were subject to the investigatory exemption of the Massachusetts Public Records Law.
After years of litigation, the Suffolk Superior Court upheld the District Attorney’s refusal to provide access to these documents. In 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts and Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen filed an appeal with the Supreme Judicial Court. Their briefs argue that the Superior Court’s ruling is contrary to the plain text of the public records law, not required by federal law, and represents a profound threat to the transparency that the public records law guarantees to Massachusetts residents.
The Supreme Judicial Court will consider this case at a time when police are facing renewed scrutiny for fatal shootings and the use of excessive force, which disproportionately harms and kills Black people. Now more than ever, family members and the wider community must have access to all public records when officers are investigated for misconduct—especially when they are cleared of wrongdoing.