EXCLUSIVE: Relatives of those who died at hands of police push for repeal of NYS law shielding release of cop disciplinary records

December 24, 2018
Kenneth Lovett
New York Daily News

ALBANY — Citing the recent case in which officers ripped a baby from a woman’s arms while arresting her, the relatives of 16 people killed by police are seeking passage of a bill requiring the NYPD to publicly release officer disciplinary records.

The relatives as well as 85 organizations supporting them sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo and state legislative leaders calling for a full repeal of the four-decade-old 50a provision of civil service law that shields the release of the police and firefighter disciplinary records.

Simply amending the law is not enough, the coalition, calling itself Communities United for Police Reform, wrote.

In the letter sent to Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the coalition argues “the crisis of police misconduct and systemic lack of consequences and accountability for police brutality and unjust police killings of civilians has gained increased national attention in recent years.”

 

The letter cites the recent case of Jazmine Headley, the 23-year-old Brooklyn woman who had her baby ripped from her arms during a clash with NYPD and city Human Resources Administration officers at a public benefits office in Brooklyn that was caught on video that went viral.

The coalition says the NYPD has refused to release the names of the officers involved, which the letter says “makes the community less safe.”

With the city police unions opposing changes to the 50-a law, the measure has not cleared the Legislature in recent years when the Republicans controlled the state Senate.

Advocates are hoping that the Legislature will deal with the issue in the coming year as the Democrats are set to control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in a decade.

The renewed push comes just weeks after the state’s top court upheld that even heavily redacted police disciplinary records can be hidden from public view.

Anything less than a full repeal would be a “waste of political capital” that would “provide a false sense of progress that would continue to protect abusive officers and departments,” the letter says.

“Transparency is a necessary and meaningful check on police abuse, whether by individual police or departments,” the letter concludes.

Among those signing the letter are Valarie Bell, whose son Sean Bell was killed by police in 2016, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man killed in a police chokehold, and Kadiatou Diallo, who’s son Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times after police say they mistook his wallet for a gun.

Among the groups signing the letter are Amnesty International USA, the state Defenders Association, New York Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the Legal Aid Society, which brought the most recent unsuccessful challenge to the law.

New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch accused the advocates of intentionally misleading lawmakers on the issue.

Lynch argued the 50a law is on par with those in 23 states and the District of Columbia and was created for reasons “that are as valid today as they were when it was signed into law.”

The law, he said, seeks to prevent “unscrupulous” defense lawyers from abusing access to discipline records in order to win acquittals and to keep criminals from identifying and locating officers in order to exact revenge for their arrests.

Agencies charged with overseeing the actions of police officers, including district attorneys and civilian review boards, have complete access to the records, Lynch added.

“Amending or repealing the law will have devastating effects on public safety and on the safety of all law enforcement officers throughout New York State,” he said.

Spokesmen for Cuomo, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins said they are open to addressing the issue in the coming legislative session.

“As we've previously said, we would be open to considering changes to the law,” said Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall.

Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland and Stewart-Cousins rep Mike Murphy said the leaders will discuss the issue with their respective conferences when they return to Albany for the new legislative session that begins in January.