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NYCLU Appeals Court Ruling Against Police Transparency

Freeport proceeding marks the third Appellate Division appeal of NY police transparency rulings since the repeal of 50-a

NASSAU COUNTY – Today, the New York Civil Liberties Union, in partnership with Milbank LLP, appealed a Nassau County ruling against police transparency to the Appellate Division Second Department. In a February 2022 ruling, the lower court permitted the Freeport Police Department to continue withholding the vast majority of its police misconduct complaint records from the public, despite the repeal of Section 50-a. Specifically, the court permitted Freeport to shield all records of police misconduct complaints that did not result in officer discipline.

“For too long, Freeport 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, 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 Freeport Police Department did impose discipline against when and why it did not is a vital prerequisite to having any sort of informed conversation about police accountability in this community. We will fight resistance to accountability wherever we see it and continue working to shed light on misconduct records like these.”

In May 2021, the NYCLU, with pro bono counsel from Milbank LLP, filed a lawsuit challenging the Freeport Police Department’s withholding of misconduct records. The FPD responded to the lawsuit by producing a limited number of documents, but they continued to withhold all documents associated with complaints that did not result in discipline, arguing that releasing them would violate officers’ privacy and threaten their safety.

“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Yorkers stood up, spoke out, and demanded change: the Freeport Police Department cannot ignore the fact that 50-a was repealed, and police transparency is essential to police accountability,” said Susan Gottehrer, Nassau County regional director at the NYCLU. “We will continue to take action to ensure 50-a is repealed in theory and practice across New York State by obtaining full documentation of misconduct long withheld from the public.”

“The withholding of wholesale categories of police disciplinary records undercuts the New York State legislature’s goal of enhancing transparency and accountability through public access to police disciplinary records,” said Milbank Litigation partner Atara Miller. “So long as police departments can continue to withhold misconduct complaint records—as the court permitted Freeport Police Department—the veil of secrecy cast by 50-a remains. To follow the letter and spirit of the law, the Appellate Division Second Department must compel the release of all disciplinary documents, subject only to limited redactions under the New York State Freedom of Information Law.”

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 RochesterSyracuseFreeportTroyBuffalo, Nassau County, and Suffolk County for withholding public records. The Syracuse and Rochester lawsuits have been consolidated on appeal and are pending before the Fourth Department. 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:

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