Saturday, July 24, 2004
Father Denied Access
State, Haverhill Police Won't Release Murray Information
By Gary E. Lindsley
HAVERHILL NEW HAMPSHIRE - New Hampshire State Police and Haverhill police are refusing to release information regarding a February accident involving a Massachusetts woman and her subsequent disappearance.
Maura Murray, a 22-year-old University of Massachusetts at Amherst nursing student, was involved in a minor one-car accident on Route 112 in Haverhill, N.H., the night of Feb. 9.
Her father, Fred, filed Freedom of Information Act requests with state police and Haverhill police to obtain information about the accident and the investigation into Maura's disappearance. His requests were denied by both state police and Haverhill police.
Murray received a letter dated June 29 from Brian Hester, a lieutenant with the state police Special Investigation Unit.
In the letter, Hester said, "A determination has been made these files are investigative in nature, the release of requested reports, logs and data information would be a disclosure constituting an unwarranted invasion of privacy under RSA 91-A:5 IV."
"The release and disclosure at this time could interfere with an ongoing investigation," Hester continued in his letter. "See Lodge v. Knowlton, 118 NH 574 (1978). Therefore, your request at this time is denied."
Gary J. Wood, an attorney representing the Haverhill Police Department, used the same reasoning and court case to decline providing Murray with the information surrounding his daughter's accident and subsequent disappearance.
The Lodge vs. Knowlton case involved a case filed in New Hampshire Supreme Court by Bruce Lodge against Col. Harold Knowlton of the New Hampshire State Police.
Lodge had attempted to obtain an accident report regarding an accident involving a police chief while operating his cruiser.
In conclusion, the court determined the six-prong test of 5 U.S.C. 552 (B) (7) provided a good standard to effectuate the balance of interests required by RSA CH. 91-A with regard to police investigatory files.
One of the elements of the six-prong test involves invasion of privacy. The court also suggested a new hearing be held.
Hester, when contacted Friday morning, declined to comment and referred questions to David Ruhoff of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office.
Ruhoff at first said he could not make any comments in any official capacity.
He then relented when told state police said he would be the one to discuss the freedom of information act request refusal.
Ruhoff did say because it's an ongoing investigation, even the accident report cannot be released. Wood was not available for comment.
As for Murray, he does not understand why authorities won't release any information about his daughter, if her case is not being investigated as a criminal case.
State police have continually stated they consider it a missing person's case.
So, Murray does not understand why they won't release information about her case as well as the police reports regarding her accident.
He wonders whose privacy state police and police are worried about violating.
"What's so criminal about an accident report, if it's (being classified as) a missing person's case?" Murray asked. "They are denying me information which may help me."