Waiting compass on lawsuit that asks to reestablish Police Secrecy Law 50-A

August 18, 2020
David Ramirez
El Diario

Tuesday a hearing was held to hear the demand of several unions of fire police and correctional agents of the city of New York that request the repeal of the Police Secrecy Law (50-A) be reversed. The appearance was presided over by the judge of the Federal Court, Katherine Failla.

Meanwhile, civil rights defenders, elected officials, and members of a broad coalition of activists rejected the claim raised in a class-action lawsuit by the unions.

On June 9, the New York State Legislature approved, and Governor Andrew Cuomo later signed the repeal of the so-called Section 50-A, or Police Secrecy Act, which according to Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), it was used by the Police Department (NYPD) to conceal police misconduct in its interactions with the public.

"After today's hearing, we expect the court to dismiss the unfounded police unions 'request for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent the City from releasing the officers' misconduct database," said Anthonine Pierre, spokesperson of CPR.

Pierre noted that police unions want to use the courts and their enormous financial resources to undermine the will of New Yorkers and the democratically elected state legislature by trying to keep most disciplinary files and police misconduct hidden from public view.

The CPR spokesperson added that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers marched, protested, and organized throughout New York State for police transparency, accountability, and the repeal of New York's police secrecy law, 50-A.

“The court's decision will play a crucial role in our ongoing fight to put in place a system where the police are held accountable for their actions and New Yorkers do not live in fear. CPR took the historic campaign to # Repeal50A, and we will continue to reject attempts by police unions to roll back this important victory for transparency, accountability, and democracy, ”said Pierre.

Judge Failla is expected to issue a decision on the preliminary injunction request this week.

CPR noted that for at least 17 years police, fire, and correctional officers disciplinary files have been available to the public, yet plaintiffs have not presented any evidence to show that this public information posed an increased risk to officers. Consequently, "maintaining secrecy is unjustified."

“To all those who came out to defend why the Law of Police Secrecy (50-A) is maintained, we must bear in mind that the five unions of the NYPD may have the money, the will to lie and to impose fear on their side, but we have the organization, the love and the power of the people, ”said Joo-Hyun Kang, director of CPR.

Section 50-A of the Civil Rights Act has been in effect since 1976 and allowed the files of investigations and actions are taken on the conduct of law enforcement officers to be made public.

The demonstration was held in Foley Square, in front of the federal court in Manhattan, where the hearing was later held to hear the lawsuit that was filed on July 14 by the Police Benevolent Association, the Correction Officer Benevolent Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York and a number of other police unions.

In suspense

On July 15, a state court judge issued a stay, temporarily preventing New York City from releasing the police misconduct databases as planned. Soon after, the case was transferred to federal court. On July 22, the federal judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to the City, ordering it not to move forward with any database that includes information related to misconduct or discipline that has not been proven or is final.

Among the protesters were Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah, killed in September 2012 in the framework of an NYPD undercover police operation, ombudsman Jumaane Williams, Lucy Lang, from the Police Action Association, Molly Griffard, Legal Aid Society, Susan Lerner of Common Cause, Yul-san Liem, of the Justice Committee, Katurah Topps, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Janos Marton of the Civil Complaint Review Board.

Elected officials included State Senators Jamaal Bailey and Julia Salazar; Assemblyman Michael Blake, Councilors Donovan Richards, Chairman of the Public Safety Committee and Chairman-Elect of Queens County, and Ben Kallos, Chairman of the Council's Progressive Bloc.

The law also covered firefighters and prison officials to keep their files secret unless a judge ordered otherwise, despite the existence of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIL).

Topics: Repeal 50-A