Warwick, R.I. — RI Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office has ruled the City of Warwick must release details of the “Ragosta Report” on Warwick Public Schools’ handling of accusations against Gorton Jr. High Science teacher Mario Atoyan to the Warwick Post and the Warwick Beacon within 20 days.
In responding to the publications’ public records complaints, filed after the City of Warwick and the Warwick School Department’s denied requests for the information in June 2015, December 2015 and January 2016, Lisa A. Pinsonneault, Special Assistant Attorney General, noted that while individuals identified in the report besides Atoyan have threatened to sue the City of Warwick if the report is released, those threats should not prevent its disclosure. The 20-day deadline is provided, she wrote, to provide anyone identified in the report time to consider “legal options.”
The “Ragosta Report,” presented to the School Committee by attorney Vincent Ragosta in May 2015, details Warwick Public Schools’ handling of accusations of inappropriate conduct with students against Gorton Junior High School Science Teacher Mario Atoyan.
The report focuses on the actions taken by three school administrators: Richard D’Agostino, superintendent at the time, Rosemary Healey, compliance officer and director of human resources at the School Department, and Dennis Mullen, the former director of Secondary Education. D’Agostino retired in June 2015. Healey was reassigned to handle the human resources department, then placed on leave. Mullen recently took a job in another district.
The Warwick Post requested the Ragosta Report from the School Committee in July, but the body denied the request, arguing its denial under the investigatory records exemption of the RI Access to Public Records Act (APRA). When questioned by the Attorney General’s office in detail about the denial, the School Committee resorted to denial on the basis of attorney-client privilege, which the Warwick Post argued in a rebuttal was also not applicable.
“Members of the public and publicly elected officials in the Warwick community have expressed a reasonable interest in this information, as it provides a crucial look at the operation of the Warwick School Department under extreme circumstances,” Warwick Post wrote in its complaint.
The Warwick Beacon also filed a complaint contesting the School Committee’s denial of their request for the document.
After the Warwick City Council succeeded in subpoenaing a copy of the report in the fall thanks to a Superior Court order instructing a redacted release, Warwick Post and the Warwick Beacon each requested the redacted document from the City, which the City also denied, again citing the investigatory nature of the document. The Warwick Post and Warwick Beacon each contested this denial as well, the Beacon in December of 2015 and the Post in January 2016. Each argued against the definition of the report as an investigatory record, claiming it was instead a record of final action taken, and could not be withheld.
Following the redactions ordered by Superior Court, Pinsonneault’s summary discounted the School Committee’s earlier assertion of attorney-client privilege.
But it was the City’s failure to explain why the records qualified as investigatory under APRA that tipped the ruling in the Warwick Post and Warwick Beacon’s favor.
“The plain language of APRA does not exempt “[a]ll investigatory records,” but rather only exempts “[a]ll investigatory records pertaining to possible violations of statute, rule or regulation other than records of final action taken [.]’ ”
With no attempt by the School Committee to identify what possible violation of statute, rule or regulation was being investigated, the exemption of investigatory records under APRA could not be applied, Pinsonneault wrote.
“Moreover, we have thoroughly reviewed the arguments presented and (The City of) Warwick has failed to assert the applicability of any other exemption,” Pinsonneault added.
A complete copy of the RI Attorney General’s ruling is embedded below.
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