Court rejects Connecticut officials’ bid to keep secret a police report on hospital patient’s death

Aug 29, 2023, 1:12 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Police reports about deaths and other incidents in public hospitals cannot be kept secret, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, citing the importance of government transparency and the public’s right to know what happened.

A majority of the justices rejected an attempt by state officials to prevent the release of a police report about a patient who reportedly choked to death on food in 2016 while being restrained by staff members at Connecticut’s only maximum-security psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.

State officials argued the report was confidential under the patient-psychiatrist privilege as well as under the federal medical privacy law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

While the court majority acknowledged the harm that could result from publicly releasing a patient’s medical information, “we must also acknowledge the unfortunate and undeniable reality that governmental secrecy can be used to conceal governmental abuse, corruption, and neglect.”

Four justices joined the majority opinion, which ordered the release of the report with some patient information redacted. Chief Justice Richard Robinson, in a partial dissent, agreed the report should be released but believed more information should be made confidential. Two justices said the report should not be disclosed.

“The decision ensures that an untimely death which occurs when a patient is under the custody, control or care of a public institution will be investigated thoroughly and that the cause will not be shielded from public view,” said Colleen Murphy, executive director and general counsel of the state Freedom of Information Commission.

The state attorney general’s office, which argued against releasing the report, said Tuesday afternoon that it was working on a response to the ruling.

The legal case was sparked by a request under state public records law for the police report by Hartford Courant reporter Josh Kovner in 2017. Kovner, who died in 2020, requested the report from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the agency’s police force.

The report is about the December 2016 death of a patient at the Whiting Forensic Hospital in Middletown, which is overseen by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, or DMHAS. The hospital treats people acquitted of crimes by reason of insanity as well as other patients.

In the months after the patient’s death, Whiting Forensic would become ensnared in a scandal involving another patient who was abused numerous times by staff. The abuse led to the arrests of 10 employees, the firings of nearly three dozen workers and reforms at Whiting.

After the patient’s death, DHMAS said in a statement that the person died “due to a medical event.” The department denied the request for the police report, which the Courant appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission.

The commission determined the report was subject to public disclosure with no redactions and ordered DMHAS to release it. But the department appealed to Superior Court, where a judge ruled the report could be released, but with patient information blocked out. The department appealed again, leading to the state Supreme Court ruling.

In 2019, the Courant obtained records that showed the patient was choking on multiple fig bars and flailing their arms, leading staff to restrain him because they believed he was becoming aggressive. The records said staff did not identify or respond to the patient’s obstructed airway for nearly 2 1/2 minutes until a nurse ordered staff to release him so lifesaving measures could be performed.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling “is an important step in the Hartford Courant’s pursuit of the truth,” the paper’s executive editor, Helen Bennett, said in an email to The Associated Press. “We will review this decision and then decide on what our next steps will be in the case.”

The patient was identified as 25-year-old Andrew Vermiglio, of North Haven, by the Courant and a 2019 investigation report by the nonprofit group Disability Rights Connecticut.

United States News

Associated Press

The House is on the brink of approving aid for Ukraine and Israel after months of struggle

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is working through a rare Saturday session to approve $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies, Democrats and Republicans joining together behind the legislation after a grueling monthslong fight over renewed American support for repelling Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. Before the voting, the House began […]

11 hours ago

Associated Press

The Senate passes a reauthorization of a key US surveillance program just after a midnight deadline

WASHINGTON (AP) — Barely missing its midnight deadline, the Senate voted early Saturday to reauthorize a key U.S. surveillance law after divisions over whether the FBI should be restricted from using the program to search for Americans’ data nearly forced the statute to lapse. The legislation approved 60-34 with bipartisan support would extend for two […]

12 hours ago

Associated Press

Soar, slide, splash? It’s skiers’ choice as spring’s wacky pond skimming tradition returns

GILFORD, N.H. (AP) — A costumed skier races down a slope, hits a pond and hydroplanes halfway across. He pirouettes and then plunges into the icy water before jumping up and waving to the cheering crowd. It’s the wacky spring tradition of pond skimming, and it’s happening this month at ski resorts across the country. […]

12 hours ago

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran's nuclear site in Isfahan, Iran, April 4, 2024...

Associated Press

Israel, Iran play down apparent Israeli strike. The muted responses could calm tensions — for now

Israel and Iran are both playing down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran.

14 hours ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after lawmakers pushed a $95 bill...

Associated Press

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

The House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other sources of humanitarian support.

16 hours ago

Associated Press

Idaho group says it is exploring a ballot initiative for abortion rights and reproductive care

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new Idaho organization says it will ask voters to restore abortion access and other reproductive health care rights in the state after lawmakers let a second legislative session end without modifying strict abortion bans that have been blamed for a recent exodus of health care providers. “We have not been […]

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Court rejects Connecticut officials’ bid to keep secret a police report on hospital patient’s death