In the wake of peaceful protests against police brutality, the ACLU of Massachusetts and law firm WilmerHale yesterday filed a lawsuit against the City of Springfield demanding information about the Springfield Police Department (SPD) and its racially discriminatory policing patterns and practices.
Following a series of high-profile Springfield events—including the grand jury indictment of 14 current and former SPD officers following the assault of four Black men at a local bar—the ACLU of Massachusetts submitted two separate public records requests to the City. More than one year later, the City has still not produced a substantive response to the ACLU’s request for demographic data about its police department’s interactions with residents and has withheld documents responsive to the ACLU’s second request.
“These records were important when we requested them,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But they are particularly important now, as people across the country demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black people who have been killed by police in recent years. We need to fundamentally shift the role police play in our society; that begins with transparency and accountability.”
A study commissioned by the Massachusetts Legislature found that SPD engaged in a pattern of racial profiling over a period of at least two years. In the years following the study, the misconduct of SPD officers and the department itself has triggered a federal investigation, criminal indictments, civil lawsuits, and increasing national and local media scrutiny.
“The public has the right to know how Springfield police engage with people in the city,” said Kevin Prussia, partner at WilmerHale. “As communities in Massachusetts and around the country call on their leaders to address racist and violent policing, public transparency remains necessary for police accountability.”
According to the ACLU lawsuit, the withheld records are critically important to the public’s ability to understand how SPD operates in its community and interacts with people in the city. The request includes documents concerning police interactions with residents and materials governing the department’s operations.