U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

NJ journalist files lawsuit following cease-and-desist notice from police director

Incident Details

SCREENSHOT

A portion of the cease-and-desist notice sent to New Brunswick Today editor Charlie Kratovil after he raised questions during a public meeting about where a civilian police official lives.

— SCREENSHOT
September 21, 2023 - Update

New Jersey journalist appeals case over cease-and-desist notice

New Jersey journalist Charlie Kratovil filed an appeal on Sept. 21, 2023, after a judge dismissed his lawsuit against the New Brunswick official who sent him a cease-and-desist notice for questioning his residence, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker and confirmed by Kratovil and his attorney.

Kratovil, founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, had raised the issue at a city council meeting in May, noting the two-plus hour distance between New Brunswick and the home address in Cape May of Anthony Caputo, then the civilian director of police and member of the board of commissioners for the Parking Authority.

Kratovil stated the name of the street listed on Caputo’s voter profile and handed copies of the profile, which listed the full address, to council members.

Caputo wrote Kratovil on official city letterhead the following day, requesting that Kratovil stop all disclosures of the address and asserting that Caputo was protected from such disclosure under Daniel’s Law, which makes it a crime to post addresses or phone numbers of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and their families on public websites.

The city released a recording of the public meeting that was edited to mute audio of Kratovil’s entire line of questioning about the address.

In July, the ACLU of New Jersey filed a suit on Kratovil’s behalf against the city and Caputo, seeking protection for Kratovil from possible criminal or civil penalties for alleged violations of Daniel’s Law and arguing that the defendants had attempted to chill Kratovil’s journalism.

The judge dismissed the complaint on Sept. 21, finding that Kratovil had lawfully obtained Caputo’s home address and that the question of Caputo’s residency was of public concern, but that the exact address was not. That day, Kratovil filed a notice of appeal of the dismissal order.

Writing in support of Kratovil’s appeal, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued against the application of Daniel’s Law to Kratovil’s reporting. “Without access to, or the freedom to publish, information that may fall within the reach of Daniel’s Law, many important news stories simply will not be told — to the detriment of the public,” it wrote.

Caputo retired from his position at the New Brunswick Police Department in November, and is now the director of the Cape May County Department of Fare-Free Transportation.

May 4, 2023

Charlie Kratovil, founder and editor of New Jersey newspaper New Brunswick Today, received a cease-and-desist notice after he raised questions during a city council meeting on May 3, 2023, about where a city official lives. Kratovil subsequently filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the official seeking protections from possible criminal or civil penalties.

Kratovil told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that Anthony Caputo, who serves as the civilian director of police and sits on the board of commissioners for the Parking Authority, has been “extraordinarily absent.”

“Our police director has been really elusive. He has not attended a council meeting in 15 years,” Kratovil said. “I’ve had important questions to ask him over the years, and he typically doesn’t engage, certainly doesn’t have press conferences or anything like that.”

Kratovil told the Tracker he had learned through a public records request that in 2022 Caputo changed the residence on his voter registration to Cape May. The small town at the southernmost tip of New Jersey is more than two hours drive from New Brunswick.

After Kratovil attempted to reach Caputo for comment about his residence — including during a Parking Authority board meeting — the journalist said he raised the issue at a public meeting attended by the New Brunswick City Council.

Kratovil stated the name of the street listed on Caputo’s voter profile and handed copies — which contained the full address — to the council members, asking whether there are residency requirements for the positions Caputo fills. According to the lawsuit filed on Kratovil’s behalf by the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU, the council members did not provide an answer and said they would have to look into it.

Caputo wrote Kratovil on official city letterhead the following day, copying a Middlesex County prosecutor and the New Brunswick city attorney, to assert that he is protected from disclosure of his home address or telephone number under Daniel’s Law. The state statute makes it a crime to post addresses or phone numbers of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, and their families on public websites.

“I do hereby request that you cease the disclosure of such information and remove the protected information from the internet or where otherwise made available,” Caputo’s letter states. “I trust you will be guided accordingly.”

A recording of the public meeting subsequently released by the city was edited to mute the audio not only of Kratovil stating the street of Caputo’s home but his entire line of questioning about the police director’s residency.

ACLU of New Jersey, in its lawsuit filed July 12, argued that the city of New Brunswick and Caputo have attempted to chill Kratovil’s journalism after he reported lawfully obtained information that is in the public interest.

“Government should not threaten news reporters with prosecution or civil liability if they write a news story or share information about something questionable going on with a public servant’s address,” the lawsuit states.

The suit seeks an injunction against the city to protect Kratovil from any attempts to pursue civil or criminal penalties against him for alleged violations of Daniel’s Law.

In a court filing reviewed by the Tracker, attorneys for the city confirmed that Caputo is indeed registered to vote in Cape May, but asserted that he rents an apartment in East Brunswick where he stays during the week.

Caputo did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment as of press time.

An initial hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Aug. 23.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].