NYCLU Sues Nassau County Police Department for Withholding Misconduct Records

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
October 4, 2021 9:30 am

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NASSAU COUNTY, N.Y. – The New York Civil Liberties Union, with pro bono counsel from Milbank LLP, filed a lawsuit late on Friday against the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) 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 Freedom of Information Law (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, since January 1, 2000. The NCPD has denied requests for all records of police misconduct complaints created prior to June 2020—when 50-a was repealed—and all records of complaints that did not ultimately result in discipline from after that date. In other words, Nassau continues to shield the vast majority of police misconduct complaint records from disclosure.

“The Nassau County Policy Department has thrown the kitchen sink at this request, obstructing police transparency and accountability at every turn. NCPD’s argument that it can shield all unsubstantiated and pre-June 2020 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.

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 police departments in Rochester, Syracuse, Freeport, Troy and Buffalo for withholding public records subject to state FOIL. Courts statewide have rejected the vast majority of efforts to thwart accountability and disclosure following the repeal of 50-a, including in Schenectady following NYCLU intervention.

“New Yorkers stood up, spoke out, and demanded change: the Nassau County Police Department cannot deny 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.”

“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 Nassau County from continuing to hide its misconduct records from public scrutiny,” said Atara Miller, partner at Milbank LLP.

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