NYCLU Sues Syracuse Police Department for Withholding Misconduct Records

lawsuit against the Syracuse Police Department for unlawfully denying the NYCLU’s requests
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Thursday the New York Civil Liberties Union, 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.

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 ultimately result in discipline—likely the vast majority of such records—and it along with the City of Syracuse denied the NYCLU’s administrative appeal filed in December 2020.

“The Syracuse Police Department cannot ignore the fact that 50-a was repealed, and police transparency is essential to police accountability,” said Bobby Hodgson, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “New Yorkers stood up, spoke out, and demanded change: the law is no longer on the side of police secrecy. Being able to compare when the SPD 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.

In December 2020, the NYCLU filed a similar lawsuit against the Rochester Police Department for withholding public records subject to state FOIL. Later that month, 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.

“No police department can shirk their responsibility to be transparent any longer,” said Lisa Laplace, senior staff attorney and counsel for pro bono at the NYCLU. “In partnership with our pro-bono counsel, we will 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.”

You can find case materials here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-city-syracuse-and-syracuse-police...

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