Legal Aid Argues For NYPD Accountability, Transparency in Appellate Court Bid for Pantaleo’s CCRB Records

The Legal Aid Society argued yesterday before a Manhattan appeals court, seeking to uphold a ruling that a civilian oversight agency must turn over summaries of substantiated civilian complaints against the NYPD officer who fatally choked Eric Garner.

Legal Aid is pressing for the Appellate Division, First Department to affirm Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger’s closely-watched July 2015 decision that Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) records on Officer Daniel Pantaleo are subject to disclosure. The city chose to appeal the decision – just as it is doing in a similar case, where a Queens Supreme Court Justice agreed CCRB records on another officer had to be produced. Another Manhattan case is pending against the NYPD.

Among those in attendance at the First Department oral arguments were Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr. She was joined by the family members of others who have been killed by police.

The case focuses on a state law, Civil Rights Law 50-a, which shields certain police personnel records from disclosure. Yet the current city administration has misinterpreted Civil Rights Law 50-a to grant far more secrecy to substantiated civilian complaints and police disciplinary records than any prior Republican or Democratic mayoral administration in the past 40 years.

Various groups have filed amicus briefs supporting Legal Aid’s arguments. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 20 media organizations – including The New York Times, The Associated Press and The National Press Club – filed an amicus brief in support of the Society.

Also submitting an amicus brief were U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, over 34 New York City Council members from the Progressive and Black, Latino and Asian Caucuses of the New York City Council. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP submitted their brief. Communities United for Police Reform and 33 other community organizations submitted an amicus brief through the firm Rankin & Taylor.

The case is Luongo v. Records Access Officer of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and Pantaleo. Cynthia Conti-Cook, a Staff Attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice’s Special Litigation Unit, argued the case for Legal Aid.