The Suffolk County Police Department has been ordered to release...

The Suffolk County Police Department has been ordered to release officer misconduct records. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A state judge has ordered the Suffolk County Police Department to release officer misconduct records — which the agency claimed were exempt from public disclosure for more than three years after the repeal of the “50a” secrecy law — to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In a ruling issued on Friday, Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Maureen T. Liccione said the county and police department improperly claimed they did not have to release the results of internal affairs investigations when allegations of misconduct were declared unsubstantiated. The majority of Suffolk police disciplinary cases are ruled unsubstantiated or invalid.

“This is information the public has been waiting for years,” said NYCLU supervising attorney Bobby Hodgson. “The people of Suffolk County have a right to know the history of police officers and they have not had access to information they have been entitled to for so long.”

The Friday ruling echoed a similar Nov. 21 decision by Liccione to a 2021 lawsuit filed by Newsday after Suffolk police refused to release most disciplinary records or provided records that were so heavily redacted that they were undecipherable. Liccione ordered the department to begin providing records to Newsday on a rolling basis, and provide detailed justification for redactions, within 30 days. The county and the department have appealed Liccione’s Nov. 21 decision.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A state judge has ordered the Suffolk County Police Department to release officer misconduct records to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
  • The judge said the county and police department improperly claimed they did not have to release the results of internal affairs investigations when allegations of misconduct were declared unsubstantiated.
  • It was unclear Wednesday if Suffolk County and the department would appeal the decision.

A state Appellate Division in Brooklyn also ruled on Nov. 22, in response to another 2021 lawsuit by Newsday, that Nassau police could not withhold records involving unsubstantiated cases. Nassau is also appealing that decision.

In Friday’s ruling, Liccione denied Suffolk County’s claim that records from internal affairs investigations conducted before the State Legislature’s June 2020 repeal of the 50a law, which blocked public review of police disciplinary records, could not be released retroactively.

The judge ordered Suffolk to redo redactions to records regarding substantiated claims of misconduct, and to provide a detailed log justifying those redactions. Some of the redactions block information that had already been made public in court papers and newspaper articles, the judge said in Friday’s ruling. Some pages of disciplinary records provided to NYCLU by Suffolk police, according to Hodgson, “were fully blanked out, with no explanation.”

A spokesman for County Executive Ed Romaine said he could not comment on an ongoing legal situation. An SCPD spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Liccione ordered the parties to appear at a hearing in Riverhead on Feb. 15 to discuss a rolling release of the records. It was unclear Wednesday if the county and the department would appeal her decision.

The county argued in court papers that the redactions were necessary to protect officers’ medical histories and other personal information, and to protect the identities of crime victims and witnesses. “The personal privacy of the subjects of the reports outweighs the interest of the public in access to that information,” county lawyers said.

The Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, which filed an amicus brief supporting the county, believes public access to 50a documents involving unsubstantiated claims exposes officers to threats and harassment. It would also embolden criminals and gang members to file bogus claims to badger cops, PBA president Lou Civello said.

“We are not against transparency,” Civello said. “We are looking for safeguards for our police officers.”

Hodgson said fears that officers’ privacy and safety might be compromised have been overblown. New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has released hundreds of thousands of pages regarding complaints against NYPD officers without issue, he said. The NYPD records have been published online by news organizations and civil rights groups, and are available on a city website. 

New York State lawmakers repealed 50a shortly after the May 2020 death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, which prompted huge protests nationwide and furious calls for police reform. The repeal, which legislators believed would bring transparency to a historically opaque internal affairs process, passed overwhelmingly in both the Assembly and Senate and was championed by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The repeal subjected police disciplinary records to the rules of the state Freedom of Information Law, which allows residents to request public employee records, subject to exemptions for privacy.

New York lawmakers adopted 50a in 1976 to prevent defense attorneys from using personnel records while examining police witnesses during criminal prosecutions.

According to a memo attached in support of the 2020 repeal proposal, the State Committee on Open Government later reported to Cuomo and lawmakers that “this narrow exemption has been expanded in the courts to allow police departments to withhold from the public virtually any record that contains any information that could conceivably be used to evaluate the performance of a police officer.” 

Southern State Parkway crash … Trump in court today … Autism walk  Credit: Newsday

Updated 10 minutes ago Teacher salaries ... Cold Spring Hills back in court ... SCCC tuition hike ... FeedMe: Omakase Sushi

Southern State Parkway crash … Trump in court today … Autism walk  Credit: Newsday

Updated 10 minutes ago Teacher salaries ... Cold Spring Hills back in court ... SCCC tuition hike ... FeedMe: Omakase Sushi

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME