Judge rules Bridgeport must release recordings in false rape case

Nikki Yovino, of South Setauket, N.Y., was convicted of falsely claiming she was sexually assaulted by two Sacred Hearst University students.

Nikki Yovino, of South Setauket, N.Y., was convicted of falsely claiming she was sexually assaulted by two Sacred Hearst University students.

Bridgeport Police Dept. / Contributed Photo

NEW BRITAIN — The Bridgeport Police Department must make public recorded and written statements of witnesses in a false rape case, a Superior Court judge has ruled.

But Judge Daniel Klau said the state Freedom of Information Commission must still decide whether a video of the female defendant allegedly having sex with two men in a bathroom violates the laws against voyeurism before deciding whether to release it.

Bridgeport city officials declined comment on the ruling.

“I am pleased with Judge Klau’s decision and his thoughtful interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act. In particular, his comment that the requested records, which were all evidence in the prosecution of a crime, were clearly in the public interest was a significant First Amendment win,” said Alexa Millinger, the lawyer for Real, the San Francisco-based Center for Investigative Reporting that had been seeking the material.

“The decision was recently distributed to members of the Commission and has been placed on the Commission’s Jan. 27, 2021, agenda for consideration and discussion,” said the commission’s lawyer, Matthew Reed. He declined further comment.

It’s been nearly three years since a Long Island woman, Nikki Yovino, went to prison for falsely claiming she was raped by two Sacred Heart University football players, but the case is still drawing attention.

In 2016, Yovino, then an 18-year-old freshman at Sacred Heart University, told police she had been raped by two football players in a bathroom during an off-campus party in Bridgeport. Three months later, at her home in Long Island, Yovino admitted to Bridgeport Police Detective Wilberto Cotto that she had made the allegations up, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

Yovino later agreed to plead guilty to two counts of second-degree falsely reporting an incident and one count of interfering with police, all misdemeanors, as the case was about to go to trial in Superior Court in Bridgeport.

“I just hope you spend the time reflecting on what you did,” Judge William Holden told Yovino, sentencing her to three years, suspended after she served one year in prison, followed by probation. She served less than half the term.

Among their requests, Reveal — a nationally broadcast public radio show and podcast created by CIR — wants an explicit video showing Nikki Yovino having sexual relations with the two men at the same time. The city argued release of the video, described in court documents, would violate the privacy rights of Yovino and the two men.

Yovino’s lawyer and the lawyers for the men declined comment.

The state FOI Commission, at the request of a reporter from Reveal, ordered the Bridgeport Police Department to turn over the police video interview with Yovino; the video and audio of police interviews with witnesses; and a cell phone video taken by one of the men of he and the other man having sex with Yovino in the bathroom at the party.

“It is found that the respondents (Police Department) violated the disclosure provisions of the FOI Act when they refused to disclose the requested records,” the FOI Commission stated.

In its lawsuit, the city claims the commission’s order to disclose “intimate or voyeuristic records” to the public would subject both men to public embarrassment and psychological hardship.

“The commission’s findings ordering disclosure of videotaped and audio-taped interviews with witnesses could result in witness trepidation or refusal to cooperate with law enforcement potentially putting witnesses and their families at risk,” the suit states.

The city also argued that disclosure of the cell phone video would violate Connecticut law since it is a criminal offense to disseminate voyeuristic material.

“Because the witness recordings in this case formed the basis of the arrest and conviction of a college student for falsely reporting a sexual assault, the public interest in the disclosure of the recordings seem obvious to this court,” the judge ruled.

The judge continued that the FOI commission failed to consider whether the released cell phone video would violate the voyeurism criminal statute and it must do that before deciding whether to release it.