NEW YORK – The New York Civil Liberties Union and pro bono counsel Latham & Watkins filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the New York State Police (NYSP) for hiding all officer names from its police disciplinary records related to “unsubstantiated” complaints against officers. In every instance where a complaint or where the NYSP’s investigation did not lead to officer discipline, the NYSP has applied a blanket redaction.
In August, the NYCLU made available more than two decades of the State Police’s misconduct records, exposing the department’s excessive use of force and lack of accountability. However, the records obtained by the NYCLU do not include the names of any officers whom the NYSP chose not to discipline. On April 20, 2023, the NYCLU submitted a FOIL request, requesting the NYSP to produce an unredacted version of its officer misconduct spreadsheet that includes officer names. Following the NYSP’s denial of the request, the NYCLU filed this article 78 lawsuit seeking production of the unredacted copy of the spreadsheet.
“Our initial analysis of the State Police’s misconduct records exposed a massive number of misconduct investigations and uses of force, but that analysis was hindered by the department’s pervasive inappropriate redactions,” said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at the NYCLU. “By keeping officer names secret, the State Police is preventing New Yorkers from having a more comprehensive understanding of systemic issues and possible patterns of officer misconduct. After the repeal of 50-a, the law specifically mandates the disclosure of officer names as part of its promise to bring full transparency to law enforcement records. New Yorkers deserve no less.”
These proceedings are part of the NYCLU’s statewide police transparency initiative, 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, Yonkers, Buffalo, Nassau County, and Suffolk County for withholding public records.
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 Rochester case is now headed to the New York Court of Appeals.
You can find case materials here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-new-york-state-police