SYRACUSE – In response to New York State Supreme Court Judge Gerard J. Neri issuing a decision permitting the Syracuse Police Department to continue withholding open or unsubstantiated disciplinary records from the public, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued the following statement from senior staff attorney Bobby Hodgson.
“Despite today’s decision, arguments shielding open or unsubstantiated misconduct complaints from public scrutiny have been rejected by the majority of courts that have considered them, and this decision is an outlier we intend to appeal. These records are key to accountability. 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 police misconduct in their communities. We will fight resistance to transparency and accountability wherever we see it and continue working to end the secrecy shrouding evidence of police misconduct across New York state.”
The NYCLU submitted a FOIL request seeking public records specifically authorized to be disclosed under state FOIL after the repeal of 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 and it along with the City of Syracuse denied the NYCLU’s administrative appeal filed in December 2020.
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 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, NYCLU has filed lawsuits against the and the for withholding public records subject to state FOIL. , a State Supreme Court Judge in Schenectady reaffirmed that the repeal of 50-a means that all complaints—not just complaints that result in discipline—must be produced under FOIL, and that FOIL’s privacy exemption cannot re-establish 50-a under another name.