Pols, activists join legal battle over revealing any actions against cop who choked Eric Garner

September 5, 2016
Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

Pull back the curtain!

So says a group of elected officials and activist groups that will file briefs Tuesday in support of a two-year legal battle to get the city to release the disciplinary records of the cop who fatally choked Eric Garner back in 2014, organizers said.

The effort is being mounted by Garner's mother Gwen Carr, members of the City Council, Public Advocate Letitia James and Communities United for Police Reform, a nonprofit dedicated to greater police accountability.

The de Blasio administration has been fighting the release of Officer Daniel Pantaleo's Civilian Complaint Review Board history, against a challenge by the Legal Aid Society under the Freedom of Information Law.

Citing prior court decisions, the city is arguing that section 50-A of the state Civil Rights Law bars it from releasing the records.

But New York State Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger ruled more recently that the records - technically, summaries of the complaints against Pantaleo - aren't covered under 50-A and should be released.

The city immediately appealed that ruling. Oral arguments are slated for October.

“The city’s construal of the law seeks to turn a narrow Freedom of Information exemption into a blank check for NYPD secrecy,” according to the brief filed by the community groups.

James said, "The public deserves to know why, over two years later, there has been a failure to impose any punishment upon those responsible for Eric Garner's death. This request for records is about bringing sunlight and transparency to a case that has been shrouded in darkness and secrecy.”

In August, a group of news organizations filed their own brief in support of release of the records.

“The lower courts have issued varying decisions and we seek clarity. More arguments and views before the court will provide the court with a more thorough view of the interests at stake,” said Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city Law Department.

The NYPD recently started withholding its own "personnel orders" that contain the outcomes of disciplinary cases against cops. The move reversed a practice in place for at least the past 30 years.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio called for the repeal of 50-A while insisting that the city can't release the records until the law is nixed.

Critics of the city’s move to withhold the records argue they are taking the most narrow possible interpretation of the law.

But courts have ruled in the past that only records clearly used to evaluate performance should be withheld.

Topics: Eric Garner