New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled the public has a right to see the internal affairs report from the case of the city of Elizabeth's former police director, who resigned after an investigation found he used racist and sexist language to refer to department personnel.

James Cosgrove, the civilian head of the department for two decades, stepped down in 2019, months after an attorney filed a complaint on behalf of employees. The Union County prosecutor's office conducted a two-month investigation that concluded he had "used derogatory terms, including racist and misogynistic slurs," to describe his staff. Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey's attorney general at the time, urged Cosgrove to step down.

A state appeals court later denied access to the internal affairs records, writing that disclosure would discourage future witnesses from reporting misconduct and frustrate the investigative process.

In reversing that ruling Monday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote, "In a matter like this, the public interest in disclosure is great. Racist and sexist conduct by the civilian head of a police department violates the public's trust in law enforcement. It undermines confidence in law enforcement generally, including the thousands of professionals who serve the public honorably."

The Supreme Court heard arguments in support of disclosing the report from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union New Jersey, The Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The city of Elizabeth and the Union County prosecutor's office argued against disclosure.

The state attorney general's office argued internal affairs records are normally exempt from disclosure under state open-records laws, but acknowledged that in this case, the public's interest in transparency made releasing the records appropriate.

In its ruling Monday, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to review the report and release it with the names and identifying information for witnesses, informants or cooperators redacted.

Messages seeking comment were left Monday with the Union County prosecutor's office and the state attorney general's office.

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