NYCLU challenging unlawful withholding of unsubstantiated police misconduct records post-50-a
NASSAU COUNTY – The New York Civil Liberties Union, with pro bono counsel from Milbank LLP, filed a lawsuit against the Freeport 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 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 Freeport Police Department has denied requests for all records of police misconduct complaints that did not ultimately result in discipline—likely the vast majority of such records—and it denied the NYCLU’s administrative appeal filed in December 2020.
“Freeport PD’s argument that it can shield unsubstantiated misconduct complaints from public scrutiny has been rejected by multiple courts that have considered it, because courts recognize that these records are key to accountability,” said Bobby Hodgson, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “Being able to compare when the Freeport Police Department did impose discipline as the result of a complaint against when and why it did not is vital to vindicating the public’s right to complete information about the police misconduct that takes place in their communities.”
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 Rochester Police Department, Syracuse Police Departmentand the Buffalo Police Department for withholding public records subject to state FOIL. Following NYCLU intervention, 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.
“New Yorkers stood up, spoke out, and demanded change: the Freeport Police Department cannot ignore the fact that 50-a was repealed, and police transparency is essential to police accountability,” said Susan Gottehrer, Nassau County chapter director at the NYCLU. “We will continue to take action to ensure 50-a is repealed in theory and practice across New York State by obtaining full documentation of misconduct long withheld from the public.”
“Milbank is proud to partner with the NYCLU to ensure that New Yorkers benefit from the repeal of 50-a by seeking court intervention to prevent Freeport from continuing to hide its misconduct records from public scrutiny,” said Errol Taylor, consulting partner at Milbank LLP.
You can find case materials here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-freeport-police-department