Local authorities continue to fight the public over making disciplinary records public. However, the public’s fighting back.
This week, The Legal Aid Society filed an amicus brief against the efforts of five police unions to block public access to the disciplinary records after Albany repealed Section 50-a which made records and accounts of police misconduct unavailable to civilians. In the brief, members of The Legal Aid Society state that the police’s latest attempt to block Section 50-a is emblematic of the culture cops have created.
“This lawsuit is a baseless attempt to undo the Legislature’s decisive repeal of Police Secrecy Law 50-a, and restore the toxic culture or impunity for police harassment and abuse of predominantly Black and Latinx New Yorkers,” stated Corey Stoughton, attorney-in-charge of the Special Litigation Unit with the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “We urge the Court to deny the preliminary injunction and allow for the disclosure of these records to promote accountability for officers who commit acts of misconduct and betray public trust.”
The Legal Aid Society’s amicus brief follows the brief filed against the unions by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliff LLP on behalf of Communities United for Police Reform. During a virtual news conference in late July, which included New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake and Ramarley Graham’s mother Constance Malcolm, CPR Spokesperson Anthonine Pierre said that the campaign the advocacy group ran to repeal 50-a won’t be for naught.
“We led the historic campaign to repeal New York’s notorious police secrecy law 50-a, and are disgusted to see that in just a few weeks since the repeal, police unions are using their outsized financial resources to attempt to roll back this important victory for transparency and democracy,” stated Pierre.
On July 14, officials from the Police Benevolent Association, Correction Officers Benevolent Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, and a host of other law enforcement unions filed a lawsuit to block New York City’s government from publishing its planned databases of police misconduct.
The following day a New York State Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla issued a temporary stay, preventing City Hall from making the database public until Aug. 18. when she’d hear union arguments against the databases’ release.
While supporters of 50-a believe the police unions’ lawsuits are without merit, a representative for the unions said they’re suing to protect individuals from being unfairly targeted by the public.
“...This lawsuit defends the basic rights of individuals to privacy and equal protection, and the presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise after a lawful proceeding,” said Hank Sheinkopf, spokesman for We Are All New York (a coalition made up of the five police unions, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, and Uniformed Fire Officers Association). “An internet data dump—containing documents describing unproven unadjudicated allegations against innocent brave public safety employees, who dutifully go to work each day, and put themselves in harm’s way to protect New York City’s 8.5 million residents and 60 million visitors each year—is not fair by any measure. It would leave these essential public servants with fewer rights and protections than other city employees.”
Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, however, lived up to his name and took the side of the public. This week, he announced his support today for Communities United for Police Reform’s efforts in opposition to several law enforcement unions seeking a preliminary injunction against the enacting of the recent repeal of Section 50-a. Williams filed a Declaration of Support for the reform advocates, after previously supporting their motion to intervene in the case last month.
“The interpretation and application of § 50-a deprived the public of information fundamental to oversight and lent a shield of opacity to the very public, state and local police agencies that have perhaps the greatest day-to-day impact over the lives of New York City citizens,” wrote Williams in the declaration. “Section 50-a increased the harm caused to New Yorkers who experienced police abuse by denying them and their loved ones access to information about the police officers who engaged in unlawful actions and as to whether the police department took disciplinary action against officers who violated the law.
“The public, through their elected officials, can propose and garner support for policy changes only if full, real time facts concerning past and present NYPD conduct is available,” concluded Williams.