TRENTON – To increase transparency and enhance public trust, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today released the internal affairs file of former Neptune Township Police Sergeant Philip Seidle, who shot and killed his wife in 2015.
Seidle’s internal affairs file has been the subject of prior public requests and litigation. In 2017, the Asbury Park Press requested the file from the Neptune Police Department under the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”).
After the news agency filed a lawsuit to gain access to the file, a Superior Court judge ruled in 2018 that such internal affairs records are not public records accessible under OPRA, but held under the common law right of access that in light of the unique facts of the case, the public interest in access outweighed Neptune’s interest in withholding the records.
The release of the records, however, was held pending the resolution of an appeal in that case, which remains ongoing.
The Attorney General filed a brief in that matter supporting Neptune’s position that the files were not subject to OPRA, but took no position concerning their release under the common law.
Recognizing the public interest in the files and the need for increased transparency to build public trust, on July 16, 2020, Attorney General Grewal testified before the New Jersey Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee that he would be reconsidering his position.
Seidle’s internal affairs file is voluminous and includes multiple instances of domestic violence, as well as information implicating disputes with other officers, disciplinary actions, other investigations, and numerous, competing privacy interests.
To aid in the analysis of these records, the Attorney General’s Office retained former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr.
That review is now complete and the Attorney General has concluded that, even though these files are not subject to disclosure under OPRA, their redacted release is in the public interest because it will enable the public to better understand how law enforcement officials investigated and addressed reports of Seidle’s aberrant and violent behavior.
“As part of my ongoing commitment to strengthening the culture of transparency and accountability in law enforcement, I directed the release today of Philip Seidle’s internal affairs file,” said Attorney General Grewal.
“I hope that these disclosures, which build on the information and records already in the public domain, will shine further light on this matter and inform the debate over what, if any, changes are necessary to avoid such tragic incidents in the future.
The release of this type of information is not as simple as just making all internal affairs materials concerning Seidle public; these documents implicate numerous, competing privacy and investigative concerns.
We painstakingly took all necessary precautions and made appropriate redactions to protect, among other things, the privacy interests and confidentiality of victims and witnesses, including fellow law enforcement officers who did the right thing by speaking out when warranted.”
Before making today’s disclosure, the Attorney General informed the Appellate Division of his intent to do so and shared portions of the file with the attorney representing Seidle’s children, who are victims of their mother’s tragic killing, so they could raise and resolve any concerns that they had prior to today’s disclosure.
Redactions made to the internal affairs file focused on the following general categories of information: (1) names, addresses, phone numbers, and other information that would identify victims, complainants, witnesses, and law enforcement officers involved in the internal affairs investigations; (2) information about other possible ongoing investigations; (3) medical and mental health documents, referrals, and references; (4) Personally Identifiable Information (PII); (5) information that would present a genuine operational or security risk to any law enforcement agencies or officers; and (6) information that is prohibited by statute from disclosure, such as domestic violence records.