Syracuse proceeding marks the first Appellate Division appeal of NY police transparency rulings since the repeal of 50-a
SYRACUSE – Today, the New York Civil Liberties Union appealed an Onondaga County Supreme Court ruling against police transparency to the Appellate Division Fourth Department. In a May 2021 ruling, the lower court permitted the Syracuse Police Department to continue withholding all SPD records of police misconduct complaints that did not result in officer discipline—likely the vast majority of complaint records—from the public, despite the repeal of Section 50-a.
“For too long, New Yorkers 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, and we will continue to fight in court until they are,” said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at the NYCLU. “Being able to compare when the Syracuse Police Department did impose discipline against when and why it did not remains vital to vindicating the public’s right to complete information about the police misconduct that takes place in their communities. We will fight resistance to accountability wherever we see it and continue working to obtain full documentation of police misconduct long withheld from the public.”
In March 2021, the NYCLU, with pro bono counsel from Latham & Watkins LLP, filed a lawsuit against the Syracuse Police Department for unlawfully denying the NYCLU’s requests for the full slate of records related to police misconduct authorized to be disclosed following the repeal of 50-a. The NYCLU submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking public records specifically authorized to be disclosed under state FOIL after the repeal of section 50-a, a statute of the state civil rights code that had been used for years to bar the disclosure of police misconduct. Specifically, that request sought records of both police misconduct complaints that did result in officer discipline and complaints that did not. The Syracuse Police Department has denied requests for all records of police misconduct complaints that did not result in discipline.
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 police departments in Rochester, Syracuse, Freeport, Troy, Buffalo, and Nassau County for withholding public records subject to state FOIL. Courts statewide have rejected the vast majority of efforts to thwart accountability and disclosure following the repeal of 50-a, including in Schenectady following the NYCLU’s intervention.
You can find case materials here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-city-syracuse-and-syracuse-police-department