Partner Jeff Pyle was interviewed for a WCVB-Channel 5 Investigates story on the legal and ethical questions of how the town of Danvers handled a report on racist and homophobic hazing rituals conducted by the boy’s high school hockey team. Extensive redactions in the public investigative reports raised eyebrows in the town, yet school officials have given no indication they will uncover blacked-out information in the reports. “If you read copies of reports by the Danvers school department, the Danvers Police Department, and an outside consultant paid by the town, you have no idea what took place,” the article states. “The reason? The town of Danvers redacted almost all the keywords throughout the reports.”
“These are public records. The public owns these records,” said Jeff Pyle, a First Amendment lawyer at the Boston law firm of Prince Lobel, who reviewed the reports for 5 Investigates.
Pyle said state law permits redactions in public records for certain reasons, including to protect people’s privacy, but not, in this case, to shield unpleasant details of the hockey team’s rituals from public scrutiny.
“The law provides that the public has a right to know what’s in the record unless there’s a very specific and narrow legal exemption,” Pyle said. “These (records) are very broadly redacted, and that leads me to suspect that they’re more redacted than is possible or permissible under the law.”
In the school department’s report, Pyle found redactions he says had no legitimate purpose.
“There is a conclusion that’s redacted that says a culture of normalizing blank and blank language existed among the blank team,” he said. “Whose privacy are they trying to protect by redacting words like racism or anti-gay from a report like this? Are they trying to protect racism’s privacy? Because this is not a privacy redaction. This is a redaction to try and cover up the conclusions of an investigation.”
The article continues, “But Pyle said the town took another questionable step in its handling of the investigative reports by leaving visible, not redacting, many statements that said nothing seriously wrong happened in the Danvers boys hockey locker room “It says to me that the municipality is over redacting these reports in order to prevent embarrassment to itself,” Pyle said.
You can read the article in its entirety here.