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Elected Officials & Advocates File Legal Action Supporting Release of Summary Misconduct Record of NYPD Officer Who Killed Eric Garner

On day of filing deadline, city leaders & Garner’s mother oppose city’s appeal of court decision that rejected its argument on state law 50-a and ordered release of information

City’s appeal of state court decision contradicts mayor and NYPD’s statements that officer misconduct is shielded by state law when 50-a permits release based on court order

On the last day to file briefs with the court, dozens of community groups and elected officials filed amicus briefs to support a state court decision ordering the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board to release the summary misconduct record of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner. In filing the briefs, the organizations and elected officials opposed the city’s continued efforts to fight release of the information through appeal of the state court decision, which rejected the city’s argument that state law 50-a prohibited its release.

“It's a total double standard – as soon as our children are killed by the police, they release their records to criminalize them, but we don't get any information on the officers who murder them,” said Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who joined the groups and elected officials in their announcement of the filings. "de Blasio should be ashamed of himself for trying to appeal the court's decision. Where's his back bone? He's supposed to be for all people and instead he's trying to conceal the malicious things the police are doing to our children.”

Communities United for Police Reform filed its brief, signed by over 30 organizations and community groups, arguing that the de Blasio administration’s shielding of the records threatens community trust in government, access to such information has been critical to police reforms across the nation, and that the administration has taken an overly broad interpretation of state law 50-a contrary to its intent and past interpretation.

The community amicus brief can be accessed here: http://goo.gl/q5WEC7

“It’s disappointing that the de Blasio administration continues to take steps backward on police accountability and transparency, a pattern inconsistent with the public interest of New Yorkers and our communities,” said Monifa Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform. “The de Blasio administration is using the excuse of state law – with a novel interpretation – to shield more information on NYPD misconduct than the last two administrations of Bloomberg and Giuliani, notorious for ignoring and covering up police misconduct. Even when a state judge rejects its application of the law, this administration is using city taxpayer dollars to continue fighting to hide incidents of misconduct that may reveal the city could have prevented the subsequent misconduct by the officer who took the life of Eric Garner. Shame on Mayor de Blasio and our city.”

A group of elected officials that included the New York City Council’s 19-member Progressive Caucus and 25-member Black, Latino & Asian Caucus (BLAC), Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries filed their own joint amicus brief in support of the state court decision ordering the city to release the summary misconduct record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo and opposed to the city’s continued concealment.

The elected officials’ amicus brief can be accessed here: https://blacaucus.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/amicus-brief-luongo-v-ccrb.pdf

“We face a climate in which communities around the country--especially communities of color--are traumatized by the rampant physical, political, and economic violence against them by government actors,” stated the Council’s BLAC. “That damage is exacerbated when the state fails to enact justice in cases like Garner's, and even more so when investigations and disciplinary processes are shrouded in secrecy. We believe government should be transparent. To that end, we join reform advocates, fellow government officials, and legal advocates in calling for the disclosure of these critical records, to which the public has an absolute right. Reducing the mystery surrounding these records sends a message that we as a city will not betray New Yorkers by protecting the bad actors who demonstrate inability or unwillingness to serve and protect us all.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer stated: “Our laws strike a balance between transparency for what should be public, and privacy when there’s a good reason for it. But there’s no good reason for the number of substantiated allegations against Officer Pantaleo to be kept secret. If we’re to understand what happened and prevent more tragedies, we need to know the facts of this one. I urge the Court to enforce the Freedom of Information Law.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus said: “This action from the NYPD serves to show once again that we cannot trust the police to police themselves.  Their interpretation of this law is much too strict and denies the public its right to information that it needs to effectively monitor potentially dangerous police behavior. The NYPD needs to immediately restore its previous policy and provide information about CCRB complaints to reporters and to the public.”

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus leadership and member of the House Task Force on Police-Community Relations stated: “More than two years after Eric Garner, an unarmed father of six, was choked to death on camera for all the world to see, his killer has not been brought to justice. That should shock the conscience of us all. The person who took his life had a checkered past and a history of repeated violations of the civil rights of people of color in New York City. This amicus brief is a strong step in our quest to illuminate that history and will hopefully play a critical role in achieving justice for Mr. Garner and his family.”

Council Member Brad Lander, Deputy Leader and Co-Founder of the Progressive Caucus said: “Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability? Several studies have found that a small number of officers account for a high percentage of complaints and discipline. But if the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”

Council Member Donovan Richards, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus stated: “In order to truly repair police-community relations, it is going to be absolutely necessary that New Yorkers see evidence of officers being held accountable for acts of police brutality. While portions of an NYPD officer’s personal records should remain private, their disciplinary record must be made public to ensure that we can build up that trust again, or else we will never find that harmony that we so desperately need in our city.”

The NYPD’s recent decision to stop making disciplinary actions against its officers available to the public, as it had previously done for decades, has come under scrutiny for concealing actions taken against officers engaged in misconduct. While the NYPD and Mayor de Blasio have blamed state law, the change in policy is the result of a new, more broad interpretation of state law 50-a that differs from preceding administrations of the last several decades. This administration’s assertion of state law as the determining rationale for concealing this information is contradicted by its legal efforts to appeal state court decisions that reject the state law’s application to block the release of misconduct summaries against NYPD officers, including Officer Daniel Pantaleo who killed Eric Garner. State law 50-a allows disclosure of such information when mandated by court order, something that happened in this case and another in which a state court in Queens ordered a similar release (the de Blasio administration is appealing that decision as well).

In July 2015, New York State Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger ordered the release of a summary of misconduct findings against Officer Daniel Pantaleo (Luongo v. CCRB), which had been sought by The Legal Aid Society under the Freedom of Information Law. The de Blasio administration is appealing that decision, arguing that state law (50-a) that protects NYPD officers' personnel records from public release without judicial approval also should prevent the release of this narrow request of CCRB -- even though CCRB is an independent agency.  The NYC Law Department's representation of CCRB raises conflict of interest and other concerns in this case, since the Law Department also represents the NYPD and officers in lawsuits.

“The Legal Aid Society proudly stands today with the community organizations, local politicians and national press organizations to demand that the CCRB, the oversight agency for the NYPD, discloses a summary of substantiated misconduct for Officer Pantaleo, who killed our client Eric Garner,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Chief of the Criminal Practice at Legal Aid Society. “The law the City relies on, Civil Rights Law 50-a indeed allows for more secrecy by the police department than any other law in the country and is in need of reform. Even 50-a, however, does not allow the NYPD or the CCRB to completely hide summaries of misconduct histories.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the last weeks with 20 media organizations, which can be found here: http://rcfp.org/sites/default/files/2016-08-15-luongo-v-ccrb.pdf.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: “An administration that came in promising police reform shouldn’t be getting creative with the law in order to keep the public in the dark about NYPD discipline and whether bad cops operate with impunity. Given the growing national focus on police abuse and accountability, the city should be opening the NYPD to the community, not walling it off.”

 

New York State already has one of the strictest secrecy laws in the country pertaining to police officers’ disciplinary records. The de Blasio administration’s decision to interpret the law even more broadly than its intent hurts transparency and accountability.  New Yorkers don't have a transparent mechanism to systemically evaluate whether police disciplinary systems are working, stagnating, deteriorating or improving because of increasing efforts to conceal access. The city’s efforts to oppose even the release of summaries of substantiated police misconduct records from an independent agency, in disagreement with state judicial rulings, only further impedes such efforts. It effectively deprives New Yorkers of knowing about the City’s role in neglecting to address systemic flaws that could have flagged Daniel Pantaleo’s prior misconduct and prevented the killing of Eric Garner.

QUOTES

“The Freedom of Information Law exists to promote transparency and openness within all agencies of government, and that must include the Police Department,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, vice-chair of the Progressive Caucus.

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams stated: “The NYPD should not be allowed to arbitrarily change their sharing guidelines, especially for unspecified reasons. I call on the legislature to expeditiously amend state law, to not allow the Department to shield from the public dispositions of officers that may have engaged in misconduct. The NYPD, like other agencies that serve the public, owe New Yorkers the highest level of transparency, especially given the lack of trust between many communities and the NYPD.”

Council Member Corey Johnson said: “The courts have ruled. Now it’s time to see these records so we can bring transparency and accountability to this crucial investigation. Our goal must be to move forward in an educated, fully-informed manner so that we can stop tragedies like the death of Eric Garner from repeating themselves. For that to happen, we need a full account of the circumstances leading up to his death. These documents will go a long way in creating a more informed public discourse, and I urge them to be released in accordance with court orders immediately.”

Council Member Stephen Levin stated: “We need transparency now more than ever. The public’s trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low, and moves that prevent vital information from being released to the public further erode that trust. It may not be easy for institutions to open themselves up to potential public scrutiny – but it is necessary. Without truth there can be no justice.”

Loyda Colon, Co-Director of the Justice Committee stated: "Brutal cops are often repeat offenders - the police killings of Shantel Davis, Anthony Baez, Kimani Gray and so many others are proof of this, yet the city goes to lengths to obscure this fact. The de Blasio administration's appeal of the decision to make public Panteleo's substantiated CCRB complaints is a telling example and shows a severe lack of commitment to police accountability as well as a severe lack of respect for families like those of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham, who are still waiting for answers and justice.”

Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of NY, said: “The Arab American Association of NY supports the FOIL request for a summary of the CCRB substantiated complaints against NYPD Officer Pantaleo. We believe that it is a disrespect to the Garner family and all justice seeking New Yorkers that Officer Daniel Pantaleo still has a job with the NYPD after clearly choking a man on video. We stand by the call to fire Pantaleo immediately.”

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE stated: “We have a right to know the history of disciplinary complaints filed against Officer Pantaleo. The police department is not a private entity. Our community has a right to expect Police accountability and transparency.  Manipulating the public by the unjustified release of Eric Garner's arrest history after his death, while Officer Pantaleo's employment history of civilian complaints and misconduct is kept hidden is evidence of the NYPDs abuse of the law and our human rights.”

Justice League NYC Co-Founder Carmen Perez said: “Justice League NYC has called for firing Daniel Pantaleo as the first of its 10 demands released in December 2014. This FOIL request is essential for transparency, accountability for the death of Eric Garner, and the safety of the public going forward.”

Iman Boukadoum Esq., Director of Community Partnerships at the Interfaith Center of New York said: “We support the Legal Aid Society's FOIL claim because transparency is indispensable, not only for a healthy democracy to thrive, but it is also critical for strong and positive community-police relations.”

Aries Dela Cruz, President of the Filipino American Democratic Club of New York stated: “We stand in solidarity with Communities United for Police Reform in asking for transparency and accountability in the NYPD. We know that we need to eliminate the over-policing of black and brown bodies to advance criminal justice reform that's truly inclusive of NYC's most marginalized populations. To improve faith in our government agencies and move forward as a unified city, Filipino Americans and all our communities have the right to access records of CCRB complaints in law enforcement.”

 

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About Communities United for Police Reform: Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and policing practices based on cooperation and respect– not discriminatory targeting and harassment. CPR brings together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those unfairly targeted the most by the NYPD. CPR is fighting for reforms that will promote community safety while ensuring that the NYPD protects and serves all New Yorkers.

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