New York Stories

I’ve been past the park Eric Garner was murdered in. It’s not much really, just a dinky little triangle between 3 streets across from a convenience store with a few trees, some benches, and grass that has seen too many feet.

New York’s police secrecy law: de Blasio fights to keep NYPD abuse records from the public
by Daniel Denvir, Salon
Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016 07:59 AM EST

At first blush, the world already knows quite a lot about NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Video of him placing Eric Garner in a lethal chokehold is now a global symbol of police abuse.

Yet the public still has close to no idea about Pantaleo’s track record before July 17, 2014, when he approached Garner, suspected of selling loose cigarettes, on Staten Island. That’s in part because New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s lawyers are fighting to keep it a secret, citing a broad interpretation of a state law tightly restricting access to police officer disciplinary records.

“This law is part of a larger culture, a dual structure when it comes to accountability for police officers,” said Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele, senior community organizer at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The disparate kind of treatment that exists for law enforcement and non-law enforcement, community folks.”

Nearly two years after Garner’s death and the mass protests that followed, NYPD discipline remains shrouded in secrecy thanks to Civil Rights Law 50-a, which makes confidential most law enforcement and correctional officer “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion.” In February 2015, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the Civilian Complaint Review Board after they refused to provide a summary of Pantaleo’s record, limited to information like the number of substantiated complaints against him and disciplinary action taken, in response to a freedom of information request.

“We simply want to know the most minimal information about whether or not Officer Pantaleo was the subject of civilian complaints and to what extent the city’s mechanisms for discipline responded, or failed to respond, to those complaints prior to Mr. Garner’s death,” Legal Aid Society attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook wrote in a court filing.

Last July, New York Supreme Court Judge Alice Schlesinger ruled in Legal Aid’s favor and ordered CCRB to provide the summary. But de Blasio’s CCRB, along with Pantaleo, have appealed. In a statement, Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said that Judge Schlesinger’s ruling appears to contradict those made by other judges and that their “appeal seeks clarity and guidance from a higher Court.”

In another case, the city is fighting the New York Civil Liberties Union’s efforts to gain access to decisions in NYPD discipline cases. The city, citing the police secrecy law, argues that those records are confidential even though the trial-like hearings are open to the public.

“The city goes to great lengths to use 50-a to keep documents from public view,” says Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU. “Unless you’re prepared to litigate, for many people that’s going to be the end of the line.”

In a separate case, the city is defending against a lawsuit filed by a Rikers Island guard making a futile effort to hide his unsavory disciplinary history, which was made public after he appealed a finding against him to a city administrative court. The NYCLU has filed an amicus brief, and The New York Times has intervened in the case, to challenge the corrections officer’s claims that he is protected by 50-a. Notably, the city has fought that lawsuit on procedural grounds and avoided discussion of the police secrecy law.

In court, city lawyers are representing the police oversight board. But Conti-Cook says their advocacy seems more like it is geared to protect the very police department they purportedly oversee.

New York’s police secrecy law dates to 1976, passed in response to complaints that defense attorneys were using police records to embarrass officers. As Legal Aid coolly noted, Garner’s personal record had received no such courtesy.

“Unlike Mr. Garner’s entire arrest history that has been released post-mortem with detailed charges thoroughly digested by the news media, regardless of presumption of innocence or statutory privacy protections…the overall restricted summary requested here would merely indicate the number of prior civilian allegations, complaints, charges and outcomes brought against Mr. Pantaleo prior to Mr. Garner’s death.”

The law produces surreal results across New York. In 2011, Nassau County Police Officer Anthony DiLeonardo, off duty with a long night of drinking behind him, shot and injured a cabbie, allegedly fleeing and unarmed, after a traffic dispute. Though an internal affairs investigation found that DiLeonardo had been in the wrong, he was not suspended or prosecuted. It was only two years later that a Newsday reporter, according to the paper, “found that the internal affairs report of the incident had been accidentally left unsealed in the court file of a $30 million federal civil-rights lawsuit.”

According to Newsday, it was only after their investigation was published that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota empaneled a grand jury to look into the incident. The grand jury never issued an indictment. Spota’s actions in that case and others are now reportedly the subject of a federal investigation. When DiLeonardo was finally fired in 2014, the police commissioner cited 50-a and declined to discuss his disciplinary record in any detail.

This next is very good news, especially since Will Yandick is your typical Debbie Wasserman-Schultz/Steve Israel, DNC, corporatist, Republican-lite, “Democrat”.

‘Anti-Corruption Crusader’ Zephyr Teachout Nabs NY Primary Win
by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams
Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bold progressive and “anti-corruption crusader” Zephyr Teachout sailed to victory Tuesday night, nabbing the Democratic nomination for New York’s 19th Congressional District.

“Together we’re going to take back our democracy from the powerful interests and lobbyists who want to keep us out,” Teachout declared in a statement, just after the vote was called. With most precincts in the district reporting, Teachout emerged with a enormous 74-26 victory over rival Will Yandick.

“The best defense against big money is people,” she continued, “and when we come together, we can have clean water, good jobs, strong communities and a government of, by and for the people.”

“Zephyr’s win shows how bold progressive ideas like breaking up too-big-to-fail banks, expanding Social Security benefits instead of cutting them, and getting the corrupting influence of big money out of politics resonate with voters in purple swing districts,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

“Zephyr is helping to show Democrats across the nation how to take back the House,” Taylor continued, “by running on big ideas and challenging corporate power in a way that is popular with Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.”

The Fordham University law professor, who in 2014 lost her bid for the Democratic Party nomination for governor of New York to Andrew Cuomo, was endorsed by presidential contender Bernie Sanders earlier this year. At the time, he wrote in an email to supporters that she’s “dedicated her life to fixing our broken political system” and that she’s “exactly the kind of person I’d want in Congress when I’m president.”

“Zephyr Teachout is a leader in the fight to get corporate money out of our politics, overturn Citizens United, and take on Wall Street,” (Democracy for America chair Jim) Dean wrote, declaring her victory “a big step in a bold, populist direction for Democrats.”

“But,” he added, “the biggest battle is still to come. Wall Street has targeted Zephyr for defeat in November.” Dean said that wealthy hedge funders “are already pouring money—including a whopping $500,000 a few days ago—into a Super PAC for her Republican opponent in this swing district.”

Teachout is slated to face Republican John Faso in the upcoming November election to succeed U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, (R-Kinderhook). According to the Daily Freeman, Faso “is a lawyer and a former member and minority leader of the state Assembly. He was he Republican candidate for governor in 2006, losing to Democrat Eliot Spitzer.”

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