Make NYPD Disciplinary Records Public
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 02, 2017

The legal battle to make public the disciplinary records of NYPD officers continues in full force. Cynthia Conti-Cook, Staff Attorney in the Special Litigation Unit of The Legal Aid Society, who filed one of the lawsuits, told the New York Times that Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary history should be released so that the public can know “whether there are indications in his record that the city or the department were aware of and that could have avoided the death of Mr. Garner.”




New York Times
Two Suits, One Aim: Make Police Officers’ Disciplinary Records Public
By Alan Feuer
January 31, 2017

Just as the year got underway, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, summoned reporters to the glassy atrium of the Brooklyn Museum to announce some good news.

For the first time in decades, New York City had counted fewer than 1,100 shootings in a calendar year and murders were near historic lows. The 2016 numbers were broadcast by a bevy of publicity techniques: news releases, data dumps, YouTube videos. The point was clear: Get the information out.

But even as their media teams sprang into action that day, officials in both City Hall and the Police Department were engaged in a fight against the release of a different and less flattering sort of material: the disciplinary records of New York City police officers accused of misconduct or abuse.

That fight is being waged by two civil rights groups that have separately sued the city to make the records public. Both of their lawsuits are now awaiting decisions in a Manhattan appeals court.

Record of Officer in Eric Garner Case Should Be Public, Officials Argue SEPT. 6, 2016 Suit Challenges Secrecy on New York Police Disciplinary Records DEC. 6, 2016 Few states give their police officers more protections from public scrutiny than New York, which is home not only to the largest municipal police force in the country but also to an aggressive corps of reporters.

Many of those protections stem from a 1976 state law, Section 50-a of the New York civil rights code, which forbids the public issuance or citation in court of officers’ personnel records without judicial approval.

Just last week, an officer in the Bronx, Richard Haste, was summoned to the Police Department’s internal court — known as the trial room — to decide whether he had acted improperly when he fatally shot an unarmed black man, Ramarley Graham, 18, inside the man’s apartment in 2012.

Officer Haste’s trial room proceeding was, like all such matters, very different from the typical courtroom case: While it was open to the public, the department will not release its final disposition or the police judge’s written analysis of whether Officer Haste should be acquitted or found guilty.

One of the lawsuits is challenging this practice and stems from a Freedom of Information request that the New York Civil Liberties Union served on the Police Department in 2011 in which it asked for a decade’s worth of judicial decisions in trial room cases and their ultimate outcomes.

“The Police Department’s disciplinary process is completely secretive,” said Chris Dunn, a lawyer who filed the suit for the civil liberties union. “Our lawsuit is designed to the give the public a window into what’s happening to police officers accused of abusing or mistreating civilians. Right now, nobody knows what happens, and that makes police accountability impossible.”

The Police Department initially denied the civil liberties union’s request, citing Section 50-a and saying that the trial room documents, if made public, could expose its officers to harm.

The department eventually agreed to release some documents pertaining to the disposition of the trials, albeit with the officers’ names redacted to preserve their anonymity. But police officials have still refused to release the written decisions in the trials.

“We have stated our position numerous times,” a police spokesman said. “An individual’s discipline history is covered under New York Civil Rights Law 50-a.”

The case now rests in the First Judicial Department appeals court in Manhattan, which held a hearing on the issue in December and could render a decision within weeks.

Ten news media organizations, including The New York Times, have joined the civil liberties union’s appeal, arguing in court papers that withholding trial room documents “would deprive journalists of information needed to accurately report on discipline imposed by N.Y.P.D. and to hold it accountable to the public it serves” — especially at a time when “public confidence in the police is at extraordinarily low levels.”

The second suit, which is before the same court, seeks the release of the disciplinary records of one particular officer: Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Eric Garner in a chokehold moments before he died on a Staten Island sidewalk in 2014. In court papers, lawyers for the city and for Officer Pantaleo argued again that releasing the records could expose the officer to abuse or retaliation.

But Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, which filed the suit, said that Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary history should be released so that the public can know “whether there are indications in his record that the city or the department were aware of and that could have avoided the death of Mr. Garner.”

While neither City Hall nor the Police Department has backed down in its defense of preventing the release of officers’ records, Kevin S. Richardson, the deputy commissioner who oversees department prosecutions, said last week that officials were developing a protocol for making disciplinary decisions public.

In January, Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference that he wanted to work with state lawmakers to reform Section 50-a. “Fifty-a, in its current, flawed form, legally prohibits the disclosure of disciplinary records and greatly disserves the public interest,” he said. “We’re fighting to change this statute.”

But any reform is unlikely to happen without the support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has said that the city and the Police Department could act on their own to release the records.

“I don’t think this is primarily a state law issue,” Mr. Cuomo said in December. “The Police Department for many years released their records. They have now decided not to release the records because of the state law. So I think really it’s a decision for New York City first.”