NASSAU COUNTY – The New York Civil Liberties Union, with pro bono counsel from Milbank LLP, appealed a lower court ruling against police transparency to the Appellate Division Second Department. In a May 2, 2022 decision, the lower court permitted the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) to continue withholding all police misconduct complaint records created before June 12, 2020, the date state legislators repealed Section 50-a. Section 50-a of the state civil rights code had been used for years to bar the disclosure of police misconduct. The lower court ruled that, despite its repeal, Section 50-a continues to bar the disclosure of decades of records.
“The lower court’s ruling improperly resurrected 50-a to continue blocking access to decades of police misconduct records. For too long, Nassau County residents have remained in the dark about officers accused of misconduct, the outcomes of investigations, and what discipline officers faced, if any. With the repeal of Section 50-a, the state legislature meant for these documents to become public,” said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at the NYCLU. “Weeks ago, the Appellate Division ordered Rochester and Syracuse to turn over the exact same category of records at issue in Nassau. It’s long past time for the people of Nassau County to see what the NCPD’s version of accountability looks like.”
In September 2020, the NYCLU requested public records newly authorized to be disclosed under state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The request sought records of police misconduct complaints, internal investigations, and resulting disciplinary records since January 1, 2000. The NCPD denied requests for all records of police misconduct complaints created before 50-a was repealed, and while the lower court rejected the NCPD’s additional attempts to withhold more recent records, it permitted the blanket denial of all pre-June-2020 records.
“The repeal of Section 50-a by the New York State Legislature signaled a clear intention to promote transparency of police misconduct through public access to police disciplinary records,” said Milbank Litigation partner Atara Miller. “The lower court’s ruling undermines this goal and opposes other decisions across the state that have supported police accountability. We call upon the Appellate Division Second Department to reverse this improper decision and uphold the rights of Nassau County residents.”
Courts statewide have rejected the vast majority of efforts to thwart accountability and disclosure following the repeal of 50-a. This includes two November 2022 decisions from the Fourth Department representing the first appellate-level decisions on the effect of 50-a’s repeal. In those appeals, arising from the NYCLU’s lawsuits against the Syracuse and Rochester police departments, the Appellate Division ruled that police departments must disclose open and unsubstantiated disciplinary records, as well as records predating the 2020 repeal of Section 50-a, to the public.
The proceeding is part of a statewide police transparency campaign in which the NYCLU and pro bono counsel filed state FOIL requests with twelve police departments statewide and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. As part of this campaign, the NYCLU has filed lawsuits against the New York State Police, as well as police departments in Rochester, Syracuse, Freeport, Troy, Buffalo, Nassau County and Suffolk County for withholding public records.
You can find case files here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-nassau-county-and-nassau-county-police-department