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GROTON — The town must comply with The Sun’s request to release the internal-affairs investigation records on former police Lt. Cathi Welch, who abruptly resigned two months ago, according to the state Public Records Division.

The office of Alan Cote, supervisor of records at the state Public Records Division, issued a letter to Town Manager Mark Haddad on Sept. 4, ordering him to provide The Sun with a copy of the investigative records that the newspaper requested. The order came nearly a month after The Sun asked the state to force the town to release the record, which the town had refused to provide.

Welch stepped down from her post on June 30 without explanation after 14 years with the Police Department. On July 1, The Sun requested the town provide copies of internal-affairs records on Welch. Acknowledging that those records exist, Haddad requested $100.80 for labor to produce copies. He noted that the law allows the town to redact certain information to provide an assurance of confidentiality to citizens so that they will speak openly about matters under investigation.”

Upon receipt of the $100.80, however, Haddad declined to release the documents with or without redaction, citing an exemption in the Public Records Law for police “investigatory materials.” The town returned the check.

The Sun appealed to Cote, noting that “the fruits of such investigations are public” under a 2003 court ruling involving a Worcester police officer in which a judge determined that files related to an internal-affairs investigation are different than other personnel records and thus may be released.

In his statement issued to Haddad, Cote agreed that not all investigatory materials are exempt from the Public Records Law.

“In a police internal affairs investigation, openness is required to foster the public trust in law enforcement,” Cote wrote. “Furthermore, a citizenry’s full and fair assessment of the conduct of public officials promotes the core value of trust between citizens and the government. This trust is essential to the public’s confidence in their government,” Cote wrote, citing the Worcester case.

Cote went on to say: “It would be detrimental to protect from public examination materials concerning the disciplining of an employee when the basis for the discipline may be a community issue affecting the public trust in the Department.”

Cote noted that the town may keep private any information “contained in a witness statement, which if disclosed would create a grave risk of directly or indirectly identifying the voluntary witness.”

— Hiroko Sato