PUBLIC INFORMATION –- "Every last
detail of Matthew Elder's final years is located inside a binder the
size of a dictionaryfrom his diagnosis with schizophrenia at 19 to
his suicide on the Caltrain tracks at 23, hours after being released
from jail," reports Mike Rosenberg for the San Mato County Times.
At the request of mental health experts, Elder's
mother, Belmont resident Micki Ceragioli, has for six years
meticulously compiled information for the binder. She once hoped to use
the journals to get her son the treatment he needed when the voices in
his head or hallucinations prevented him from seeking the help himself.
the binder is missing something: A detailed investigation report from
San Mateo police, who first responded when her son was fatally struck
at the Ninth Avenue railroad crossing on Sept. 6, 2007.
of San Mateo, following requests from Ceragioli, her grief therapist,
her lawyer and others, has repeatedly denied the mother her son's
police report. Instead, she has received only a summarized report from
the Caltrain transit police.
The information in the full police
report, such as detailed witness accounts, would allow Ceragioli to
complete her son's binder, and, she hopes, finally advance through the
Instead, 22 months after Elder's death,
Ceragioli said she can barely stand the sound of the train whizzing by
her house. Her other son, who was 4 when Elder died, puts his hands
over his mother's eyes during Sleep Train television commercials.
just hurt," said Ceragioli, the daughter of a San Francisco police
sergeant. "I can't get closure to my son's death. I don't think it's
fair and I don't know why they're not giving it to me. Why wouldn't a
mother be able to get her son's report?"
The city has a blanket
policy not to release police reports, and is legally able to withhold
them via a provision in the California Public Records Act, which
regulates whether governments must release documents, said City
Attorney Shawn Mason.
Mason said the city policy is in place for
two main reasons: First, when the city releases a document to one
person, it must then give it to anyone else who requests it, so
officials could not simply relinquish Elder's report to only Ceragioli.
The city long ago chose not to give out any reports, instead of
releasing all of them, to protect police investigative techniques and
for privacy reasons, he said.
Secondly, the city would face
repeated ethical questions if it chose to release reports on a
case-by-case basis, he said. For instance, Mason posed a situation in
which a mother requests her son's suicide report while his father asks
for it not to be released to the public.
"Then what do we do?"
Mason said. "We quickly get into situations where we're having to make
judgments that are difficult to make."
It's called discretion. The Public Records Act provides it for just such situations. But this is the mindset that never chooses to make a judgment, not even for humanitarian reasons.