NYCLU: Court Order Hides Police Misconduct Information from Public

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[New York Civil Liberties Union]
NYCLU's Christopher Dunn: “The court’s gag order is a prior restraint that plainly violates the First Amendment and is depriving the public of vital information about police misconduct.”
Photo: YouTube

Friday, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in federal court challenging a federal court’s order barring the NYCLU from making public a trove of data about civilian complaints about misconduct by NYPD officers.

The NYCLU received these records last week from the Civilian Complaint Review Board through a FOIL request, prior to the police union’s lawsuit seeking to prevent the CCRB from disclosing police misconduct. The NYCLU planned to publish the raw data and a searchable database of the records on July 23, but the court issued an order during a hearing late on July 22 barring the NYCLU from publishing or sharing these records.

The NYCLU’s motion argues that the court’s order is a prior restraint that violates the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court long ago held in The Pentagon Papers case that gag orders like the one imposed on the NYCLU are flatly unconstitutional.

“The NYCLU obtained police misconduct data lawfully, and we vehemently disagree with the court’s unprecedented order to bar the publishing of these records,” said NYCLU executive director, Donna Lieberman. “For years, the NYPD invoked 50-a to hide disciplinary records and sidestep meaningful accountability. Now that 50-a has been repealed, the police unions are attempting to continue their campaign to keep police misconduct hidden. We’ll keep fighting to bring police misconduct into the light of day and make sure police are held accountable.”

The CCRB investigates civilian complaints about police misconduct and provides recommendations to the NYPD on potential disciplinary measures. CCRB investigations are heavily dependent on NYPD cooperation and findings only ever emerged at the NYPD’s discretion. Due to 50-a, little is known about the CCRB’s ability to effectively substantiate claims.

In the hearing Wednesday, counsel for the police unions argued the publishing of records would damage the reputations and employment opportunities of officers.

“The court’s gag order is a prior restraint that plainly violates the First Amendment and is depriving the public of vital information about police misconduct,” said NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn. “Transparency is not a threat to police officers, while secrecy and lack of accountability have fueled police abuse of New Yorkers, especially in Black and Brown communities. These records should be made public immediately.”

The NYCLU's action comes on the heels of the controversial comments of NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

At a Thursday department Compstat meeting, Monahan told officers that New York City district attorneys allegedly said they would not be prosecuting officers who violate the recently implemented chokehold law.

"You’ve got every DA come out and say they’re not gonna charge that. We can’t be afraid to do what we do," Monahan said.

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