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NYCLU Sues Yonkers Police for Withholding Misconduct Records 

YONKERS – The New York Civil Liberties Union, with pro bono counsel from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a lawsuit against the City of Yonkers and the Yonkers Police Department for unlawfully denying the NYCLU’s request for records related to police misconduct.

The NYCLU submitted a FOIL request on September 15, 2020, seeking public records specifically authorized to be disclosed under state FOIL after the repeal of Civil Rights Law § 50-a, a statute that had been used for decades to bar the disclosure of misconduct by law enforcement. The Yonkers Police Department has wrongfully withheld unsubstantiated disciplinary records, redacted without proper explanation the names of police officers in its production of records, and refused to search for documents dated before 2011.

“Despite well-established case law, the Yonkers police department continues to withhold disciplinary records to which the public is legally entitled after the repeal of 50-a,” said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at the NYCLU. “Police transparency is now codified into law, and police departments can no longer respond to an investigation into pervasive patterns of discrimination with foot-dragging delays or by arguing that the police must be trusted to police themselves. If the Yonkers Police Department will not release these records, we are confident the courts will require them to do so.”

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.

“Police transparency is key to police and community relationships growing stronger and improving,” said Aaron Marks, litigation partner at Kirkland and lead pro bono partner in this case. “We are happy to work with the New York Civil Liberties Union to ensure that critical information regarding the police is made available to the public.”

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 Rochester, Syracuse, Freeport, Troy, Buffalo, Nassau County, and Suffolk County for withholding public records.

“Yonkers residents have waited long enough—they have a right to know the extent of police misconduct that occurs in their communities,” said Brandon Holmes, assistant field director at the NYCLU. “Police transparency is essential to police accountability. We will fight resistance to accountability wherever we see it and continue working to end the secrecy shrouding evidence of police violence and misconduct across New York state.”

You can find case materials here:

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