New Yorkers Slam Mayor de Blasio for Pulling City Officials From State Senate Hearing on Nation’s Worst Police Secrecy Law (50-a)
Mothers of Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham & Sean Bell join Other Advocates Testify to Urge Legislature to Fully Repeal 50-a
New York, NY – On October 17, New Yorkers, including mothers of those killed by NYPD officers, and other police accountability advocates testified before the State Senate Committee on Codes in support of a bill to repeal New York state’s police secrecy law, 50-a (S.3695-Bailey/A-2513 O’Donnell). NYC agencies, including the NYPD and Civilian Complaint Review Board were confirmed and scheduled to testify on the record in the morning, following testimony from the mothers of Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham and Eric Garner – however both NYC agencies canceled their participation the morning of the hearing.
In response to a news report that Mayor de Blasio barred the NYPD and CCRB from testifying at the Thursday hearing, Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham and Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, jointly reacted:
“We both testified in front of Senators yesterday, along with Sean Bell's mother and many advocates, to urge state elected officials to prioritize full repeal of 50-a. The NYPD and CCRB had been scheduled to testify right after us, but they pulled out at the last minute. We were disappointed but we weren't surprised that the NYPD pulled out because they never listen to our testimony- but finding out today that Mayor de Blasio ordered both the NYPD and CCRB not to testify at the 50a hearing is infuriating. This was another cowardly and manipulative move by the Mayor to continue to expand police secrecy for the benefit of the NYPD, and it's disgraceful that the independent CCRB went along with it.”
Monifa Bandele, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and Senior Vice President at Moms Rising also responded:
“The NYPD and CCRB are public agencies paid for by our tax dollars and they agreed to testify publicly in front of government officials yesterday. Ramarley Graham's mother and community members took off work to come testify. It's unacceptable that on the morning they were scheduled to testify, Mayor de Blasio pulled NYPD and CCRB officials from the hearing. Not only is the de Blasio administration singularly responsible for the massive expansion of police secrecy under 50-a, he is now preventing state elected officials from being able to publicly question these agencies on the record about NYC's shameful obstruction and lack of transparency when it comes to police misconduct.”
Links to testimony of Constance Malcolm, Gwen Carr, Monifa Bandele and others can be found here.
Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, Valerie Bell, Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham and Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, were the first to testify at Thursday’s state Senate hearing, urging the state legislature to repeal 50-a. They were joined by members and partners of Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and the Safer New York Act coalition, who also testified, including: Gabrielle Seay of 1199 SEIU, Monifa Bandele of MomsRising, Michael Sisitzky of the NYCLU, Qadira Coles of Girls for Gender Equity, Darian X of Make the Road NY, Milo Inglehard of Transgender Law Center, Alvin Bragg of New York Law School’s Racial Justice Project and former NYS Deputy Attorney General, Molly Griffard and Cynthia Conti-Cook of Legal Aid Society, Oded Oren of Bronx Defenders, and Joo-Hyun Kang, Communities United for Police Reform.
Text of select testimony from Thursday October 17th is available here. Repeal of 50-a is a key priority of the Safer New York Act legislative package, organized by Communities United for Police Reform. The Senate Committee on Codes will hold a second hearing on October 24, in Albany.
“While there is little transparency on the full scope or prevalence of police sexual misconduct, research indicated that police officers sexually harass and assault women and girls with alarming frequency,” testified Quadira Coles of Girls for Gender Equity. “[S]urvivors who report sexual misconduct by police officers are met by a disciplinary system that benefits form hiding misconduct – especially repeated misconduct – from the public eye.”
“Our members and their families have experienced police harassment, assault, and as you’ve heard from testimony this morning, even [been] killed by the police. The struggle our members have faced just to find out what, if any, disciplinary charges were pursued against officers involved in their loved one’s death is one that no family should have to endure,” Gabby Seay, Political Director at 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East told the Committee.
“Public access to police disciplinary decisions is critical to maintaining public confidence in the integrity of law enforcement and ensuring that NYPD disciplinary actions are properly pursued and adjudicated. As the law has become an obstacle to promoting these important policies, New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a must be repealed in its entirety. …If [50-a] is off the books, it cannot be misconstrued,” Alvin Bragg of the New York Law School Racial Justice Project told the Committee.
“The law’s application by police departments and its interpretation by the judiciary has enabled departments to cover up their inaction on allegations of officer misconduct when confronted with demands for accountability—including from police abuse victims and grieving family members who have lost loved ones due to police killings. It has been twisted to justify the withholding of everything from body camera footage to completely anonymized use of force data,” said Michael Sisitzky of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“For over 40 years, the public had access to critical records on police misconduct to help hold officers accountable who committed heinous crimes,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “The public still deserves access to this crucial information, and Albany must repeal 50a immediately next session. The Legal Aid Society thanks the New York State Senate and Senator Jamaal Bailey for holding this important hearing. Fully repealing 50a will help change the culture of impunity that thrives at the NYPD and with other departments around the state.”
Additional 50-a Background
New York is one of only two states with a law that specifically restricts public access to information on police officers’ discipline records. New York’s 50-a is the country’s most secretive law on police misconduct, declaring all police “personnel records” confidential – and is the most restrictive in providing a specific exemption to FOIL/FOIA requests, despite robust privacy protections that have been built into the state’s existing FOIA law.
There are 27 states that grant some level of access to police personnel records, including 12 states that make disciplinary records available to the public as a matter of course. These include states like Ohio, Connecticut, Florida, Utah, Wisconsin, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, and Washington. The NYC Bar Association noted in April 2018 that “As the only one of its kind in the nation, 50-a has been interpreted so broadly that police misconduct in New York State is more secretive than any other state in the nation.”
New York police have used 50-a to shield abusive officers and departments from public scrutiny by hiding outcomes to disciplinary trials, names of officers involved in police misconduct, body cameral footage, and even basic data on use of force incidents. In fact, the public only saw the judge's decision in the trial of Daniel Pantaleo (the officer responsible for Eric Garner’s killing) because it was leaked to the press. According to the NYPD and Section 50-a, that decision and the accompanying report is considered confidential.
The de Blasio administration’s use and expanded use of state law 50-a with new interpretations has brought increasing attention to the law’s problematic nature. It has fought to conceal police misconduct records, even when courts have ruled such information could be released in compliance with the law. A state court ruled in July 2015 that a summary of misconduct findings against the officer who killed Eric Garner could be released and that 50-a did not apply. Despite that state court ruling that assessed the state law’s application, the de Blasio administration sought an appeal to a higher court, effectively seeking concealment over transparency. In the subsequent years, the de Blasio administration and NYPD have continually reinterpreted the law to conceal an unprecedented and increasing amount of information on police misconduct and the lack of accountability for it within the NYPD. In April 2016, the NYPD reversed the practice of approximately 40 years prior of posting promotions and outcomes of disciplinary cases outside of its press office. It cited a new interpretation of the state law that claimed previous mayoral administrations – from Bloomberg to Giuliani, Koch and Dinkins – had inaccurately understood the law. The police department has continued to publicly report promotions, just not the outcomes of disciplinary outcomes. The NYPD also claimed in August 2017 that 50-a protected video footage of alleged misconduct and could only be released due to an officer waiving those protections. Such an assertion and shifting interpretations have created the opening for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) to challenge the release of body-camera footage and other records.
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.