CCRB’s Strict Policies Against Disclosing Individual Officer Misconduct Needed to Change
FRIDAY, JULY 24, 2015

New York County State Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger ordered the release of a summary of misconduct findings against Offocer Daniel Pantaleo, which had been sought by The Legal Aid Society under the Freedom of Information Law.

“If our government, through the Civilian Complaint Review Board and New York Police Department, has a record of substantiated misconduct by Officer Pantaleo that pre-dated Mr. Garner’s death, the public has a right to know about it,” stated Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice.“ The ongoing debate about the effectiveness of our current systems of police accountability is happening largely in the dark due to the CCRB’s strict policies against disclosing individual officer misconduct, even when it has been substantiated by their own investigation. Cleary, this needed to change.”

Coverage of Judge Schlesinger's decision on the release of a summary of misconduct findings against Officer Pantaleo has been wide spread, including the New York Law Journal, the Free Press, Associated Press, the Detroit News, Fox News, the Montana Standard, NBC New York, Salon, the Seattle Times, the Times Union, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Yeshiva World, DNA info, Gothamist, Yahoo, Reuters, Business Insider, Staten Island Live, Amsterdam News, New York Daily News, New York Post, Brooklyn Paper, and Capital New York.

The New York Times
Judge Orders Release of Misconduct Findings Against Officer in Eric Garner Case
JULY 23, 2015

A state court judge in Manhattan ruled that basic findings of misconduct against the New York City police officer who held Eric Garner in a chokehold cannot be withheld from public disclosure , a significant defeat for city lawyers who have long argued that such records were protected under a potent provision of state law.

In the decision, which was filed late Wednesday, the State Supreme Court judge, Alice Schlesinger, ordered the release of a summary of misconduct findings against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, which had been sought by the Legal Aid Society under the Freedom of Information Law.

The court ruled that the information requested — the number of complaints against Officer Pantaleo that were substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board , an independent oversight agency for the police, and the agency’s recommendations for discipline — was not exempt from disclosure under a provision of the state’s civil rights law, Section 50-a, that has shielded a wide range of official information.

The decision opens up the possibility that such information, if narrowly tailored, could be made available regarding other officers in the New York Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in the state.

A timetable for releasing the information was not immediately clear. The city has 30 days to file a notice of appeal.

“We are aware of the decision, and it is under review,” said Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the Law Department.

In a statement, Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s criminal practice, tied the decision to the “the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of our current systems of police accountability,” a debate she said was happening “largely in the dark due to the C.C.R.B.’s strict policies against disclosing individual officer misconduct.”

“Clearly, this needed to change,” she said.

Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights code, which dates to 1976, bars officers’ personnel records from being cited in state court or released to the public without judicial approval. The law makes New York among the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to public access to police records.

New York State’s open government group has called for the law to be repealed or amended, calling it the codification of the so-called “blue wall of silence.”

The law is aggressively employed by New York City lawyers to protect the history of individual officers’ misconduct, civil rights lawyers complain, and the definition of “personnel records” has been stretched by city lawyers to include shooting reports as well as the transcripts of open hearings on officer discipline. The practice has continued under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The court, in its decision dated Friday, the anniversary of Mr. Garner’s death, found that the exemption did not apply to the sort of numerical summary requested by the Legal Aid Society, though it appeared to stop short of expanding the ruling to apply to such requests in all cases. “The Summary, as requested, will provide only the most rudimentary of information,” the court found. “Given the specific facts of this matter, and the tailored request at stake, the court is not convinced that the release of the Summary as defined herein is likely to create any risk of harm to Mr. Pantaleo.”

The officer, who joined the city in resisting disclosure, argued that a 2014 article in The Staten Island Advance that included information about a complaint against him had led to death threats against him.

“This court believes that any adverse reactions expressed toward Mr. Pantaleo have their roots in the video of the incident, which speaks for itself,” Justice Schlesinger wrote. “Moreover, the court believes that any backlash in response to the release of the Summary, while improbable in the first instance, is more likely to be directed at the N.Y.P.D.,” which would have received C.C.R.B.’s recommendations for discipline.