May 25, 2023
• Select Board Chair, Marianne Cooley, shared a statement regarding the settlement agreement the Town of Needham made with Marvin Henry, who sued multiple town entities for an alleged racial profiling incident. In the months since the agreement was made, new struggles had the board weighing public’s desire for information against Mr. Henry’s privacy.
In February, the Town of Needham reached a settlement agreement with Marvin Henry, an employee of a local business who was wrongfully detained by local police for shoplifting in January, 2020. Henry filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against the Town of Needham and the Needham Police Department, alleging racial profiling. Since the Town announced the agreement, three individuals have requested the disclosure of the settlement sum as public record.
At the Select Board meeting on Tuesday, May 23rd, Board Chair Marianne Cooley explained why the Town refused to release the sum, and provided details about the public records requests. Reading from a statement, Chair Cooley revealed the agreement between the Town of Needham and Marvin Henry included a non-disclosure provision concerning the settlement sum.
“The agreement states that the Town will not reveal the settlement sum except in cases where disclosure is required by law, including the Massachusetts Public Records Law.”
In March, after receiving the first requester’s solicitation for the agreement, the Town provided a redacted version of the document with only the settlement sum information blacked out. Cooley mentioned Henry’s attorney demanded this action, stating releasing the sum would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of Mr. Henry’s privacy.”
“Town Counsel had numerous exchanges with the Lawyers for Cvil Rights and WilmerHale, Mr. Henry’s attorneys, to discuss the release of the settlement agreement. Mr. Henry, through his attorneys, did not agree to the release of the settlement sum.”
However, the requester filed an appeal with the Massachusetts Supervisor of Records, seeking the release of the settlement sum. After reviewing the Town’s explanation, the Supervisor of Records indicated that information should be revealed.
Again, according to Cooley’s statement at the meeting, “The Supervisor of Records responded to the appeal in a letter dated May 16th, 2023 and stated that based on the Town’s prior response,
it is unclear how the redacted information constitutes intimate details of a highly personal nature, how disclosure of the redacted information would result in personal embarrassment to an individual of normal sensibilities, or how a possible privacy interest outweighs the public interest in this public expenditure.”
Subsequently, the Town received two more requests for the document, to which they’d responded by providing the redacted version. One of the requesters has also filed an appeal with the Supervisor of Records. Cooley stated the Town will have to disclose the settlement sum to the requesters following the State’s order, but they do not plan on making the information public.
Read Cooley,”The Select Board reluctantly concludes that the Massachusetts Public Records Law requires the redacted information to be released to the requesters, and it plans to release the information to those parties shortly. The Select Board does not intend to otherwise discuss or disclose the settlement sum, because further revelation beyond a response to the requesters is not required by law, and would therefore be inconsistent with the terms of the settlement agreement.”