Rejecting family privacy claims, judge won't block release of UConn surveillance video to media requesters

A judge ruled that the Freedom of Information Commission can proceed with considering whether surveillance video of an accident involving the death of a University of Connecticut student should be released as a public record.

The parents of Jeffny Pally, who was struck and killed by a university fire vehicle in October, asked the judge to block the release of a surveillance video showing the incident.

Authorities say Pally feel asleep in front of the garage door of the UConn firehouse Oct. 16 after attending an off-campus house party affiliated with a now-expelled UConn fraternity. Not long after, the department responded to a false alarm on campus. The driver of the truck said he did not see Pally on the ground and thought he had run over fire equipment as he drove off.

The Hartford Courant requested the surveillance video of the incident under Connecticut’s freedom-of-information law. UConn initially denied the request on the grounds that disclosure could damage a criminal investigation into Pally’s death. After six men were charged with alcohol-related offenses, the Courant renewed its request for the video. Pally’s parents filed a motion for a protective order in response.

Michael J. Walsh, the attorney for Pally’s parents, said the video would cause overwhelming grief and severe emotional anguish for Pally’s family. Walsh also argued that the video would violate the family’s privacy and that under the law passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings it is illegal for the state to release a video that depicts what he termed “a homicide.” 

“Any disclosure of this video would be highly offensive, distressing and cause severe emotional anguish to the plaintiffs and to the close family members of the decedent,” Walsh wrote in his motion for a protective order.

Hartford Courant lawyer William Fish argued that the video is a public record possessed by a public agency, UConn, and whether it should be released should be up to the Freedom of Information Commission. Fish said the Courant understands the tragic nature of the video, but “reporters want to see what prosecutors in Rockville saw when they decided not to file charges against the UConn firefighter operating the vehicle that ran over Pally,” according to the Courant’s article.

The judge denied the motion for protective order in a May 25 ruling, allowing the case about whether UConn must honor the newspaper’s FOI request to proceed. 

The Courant filed complaint a complaint with the state FOI agency on March 16. The hearing was held on May 15, during which both sides presented evidence, FOIC public education officer Tom Hennick said in an email. The hearing officer ordered the video submitted in camera for a private review. It is now up to the hearing officer to review the tape and other evidence gathered at the hearing and draft a proposed final decision, which will then be sent to the FOI Commission for review and action. Hennick said the process is four to six weeks from completion.