Politico: Judge 'Boggled' by City's Police Transparency Practice

State Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis on Tuesday questioned why the NYPD stopped its decades-long practice of revealing how police officers are disciplined for misconduct. Hours before the court hearing, disciplinary records of the police officer who fatally choked Eric Garner were leaked online, Politico reported.

Judge 'Boggled' by City's Police Transparency Practice
By Azi Paybarah
March 21, 2017

Shortly after disciplinary records of the New York Police Department officer who fatally choked Eric Garner appeared to leak online Tuesday, a judge overseeing a case on record disclosure said she did not understand why the city stopped providing this kind of information in the first place.

“When did it dawn on the department that they shouldn’t be releasing these orders … it just boggles me,” State Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis said in court Tuesday. The city, she noted, had “been doing it for 30 years” and “now we have to stop?”

Lobis was referring to the city’s previous practice of releasing personnel orders — which police officers got reassigned to various precincts, who got promoted and who was disciplined for verified allegations of wrongdoing.

Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said it would no longer make NYPD personnel orders available for public review, saying at the time the city had just realized that releasing the information violated state laws shielding records from an officers personnel file from being publicly released in most instances.

Tuesday’s case is one of four lawsuits brought by the Legal Aid Society seeking information about verified allegations of wrongdoing by NYPD officers, and the discipline that was imposed by the NYPD. Several high-profile NYPD cases have raised the issue of how much information de Blasio’s administration can and will release about police officers.

The mother of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed teenager killed in his Bronx home by an NYPD officer, is also seeking information about the officers involved in her son’s death. In a change in practice, the city announced earlier this year that it will make sure Graham’s family is made aware of what, if any, disciplinary action is taken against the officer in that case, Richard Haste, whose departmental trial recently concluded.

The debate also comes as the city awaits the outcome of a federal probe into Garner's July 2014 death, before deciding what, if any steps, to take against officer Daniel Pantaleo, who remains employed in a modified role at the NYPD. Documents that appeared to show Pantaleo's disciplinary history were reported on by ThinkProgress, citing an anonymous source claiming to be an employee of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

De Blasio told NY1 Tuesday night he still had not seen the leaked Pantaleo information. The mayor also defended his record on police reform, saying a host of retraining officers now undergo has made a real impact at the department.

“It’s a very different NYPD, we have a different approach. … I think things changed a lot since Pantaleo came on the job,” the mayor said. Others, like the Rev. Al Sharpton, Tina Luongo of the Legal Aid Society, have argued that no change in NYPD culture can take place without meaningful discipline for officers.

Judge Lobis on Tuesday challenged the city’s position that releasing a summary of the verified allegations of wrongdoing is prohibited by the current state law, known commonly as 50A.

At one point, Lobis, speaking to one of the complainants, said, “nothing contained in this would alert someone who was logging the complaint, what the nature of that complaint was … just the statement of the outcome?” Cynthia Conti-Cook, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said that is correct.

The city’s lawyer, Omar Tuffaha, said previous court rulings blocked releasing personnel records because they contained, in essence, the kind of information that is in an officer’s personnel file, and therefore was blocked from disclosure.

It does not matter “where the information is stored,” he said, whether inside a specific officer’s personnel file or in a larger dossier, like the personnel orders distributed throughout the police department. The information, he said, was essentially the same. The names and punishments of specific officers are “precisely what is in these personnel orders” and therefore, cannot be released, he said.

It is unclear when Lobis will render her decision in the case.