Police and prosecutors were at loggerheads over access to officer misconduct records that the district attorney’s office needs to bring criminal cases to trial in compliance with 2019 criminal justice reform.

A legal dispute between the Nassau County Police Department and district attorney over police disciplinary records has been resolved, officials said.

In March, Newsday reported that police and prosecutors were at loggerheads over access to officer misconduct records that the district attorney’s office needs to bring criminal cases to trial in compliance with 2019 criminal justice reform.

Court officials and a spokeswoman for the district attorney confirmed the disagreement had been settled.

“NCDA has begun receiving both paper and electronic records from the Nassau County Police Department as requested,” said Nicole Turso, a spokeswoman for Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly. “We are pleased that the matter has been resolved.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A legal dispute between the Nassau County Police Department and the Nassau County District Attorney over police disciplinary records has been resolved, officials said.
  • In March, Newsday reported that police and prosecutors were at loggerheads over access to officer misconduct records that the district attorney’s office needs to bring criminal cases to trial in compliance with 2019 criminal justice reform.
  • The district attorney's office has begun receiving both paper and electronic records from the police department, a district attorney spokeswoman said.

Under New York State law, the district attorney is considered the highest law enforcement officer in the county, and records held by the police department are considered prosecutor records.

However, in a handful of cases, prosecutors subpoenaed the police department to compel it to turn over information about police misconduct.

Instead of turning the records over, Christopher Todd, the lawyer for the department, took the more unusual measure of filing a motion to quash the subpoenas. The Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, the county Superior Officers Association and the Nassau County Detectives Association all hired lawyers to file amicus briefs supporting the department’s efforts.

The police lawyer argued that the records were available via a single computer terminal in the district attorney’s office at which prosecutors could view, but not print or download, the personnel files.

In 2019, the State Legislature passed a criminal justice reform bill that required prosecutors to hand over “automatic discovery” — case files that allow defense lawyers to understand the evidence against their clients. Included in those files were police disciplinary records, which allow the defendants to question or impeach the credibility of law enforcement witnesses.

NCPD did not directly address the records dispute in their response to a request for comment on the issue, but touted the "excellent working relationship between the Nassau police and District Attorney Donnelly."

The union lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Most of the disputed cases had not received media attention, like the charges against a Queens sex trafficker or a separate assault case involving a barroom brawl.

Amandeep Singh leaves Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on May...

Amandeep Singh leaves Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on May 4, 2023. Credit: Howard Schnapp

When the administrative turf war threatened to interfere with the aggravated vehicular homicide case against Amandeep Singh, a Roslyn man accused of killing Drew Hassenbein and Ethan Falkowitz, both 14 years old, in a drunk driving accident, authorities were forced to resolve the issue, according to former Nassau prosecutor Fred Klein.

Both boys were members of the Roslyn High School tennis team on their way home from winning a tournament when they were killed. The death of the two promising young men stunned the community and the case received heavy media attention.

Withholding discovery records that could help the defendant impeach police witnesses against him could lead to a mistrial or undermine a conviction.

“Until it was going to really affect the case that a lot of people in the public cared about, the police decided not to comply with the law,” Klein said. “When push came to shove, and there was a very serious, high-profile case with a whole community up in arms about it, that's what caused them to comply.”

A break in the information logjam came in early April, in the case against Vladimir Ramirez Fuentes, who was charged with assault in a bar fight. Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, Donnelly and Supervising Judge Teresa Corrigan met in the chambers of Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn to hash out the discovery dispute.

Lawyers for the prosecutor and the police department stated their appearances for the record and then retreated into the back room.

Steven Palacios, the defendant’s lawyer, did not appear. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Quinn would only say “no comment” when asked what happened in the meeting.

Although the issue between police and prosecutors has been resolved, the district attorney's office still has to work through the backlog.

The district attorney has assigned additional staffers to analyze the documents due to the delay.

“NCDA and district attorneys’ offices across the state continue to contend with the tremendous burden of New York State’s onerous discovery laws. In response to the voluminous records we have received, NCDA has designated additional staff to work on processing the documents to satisfy our discovery obligations,” Turso said.

Scott Banks, the attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, said he was not privy to the discussions between judges, police and prosecutors to resolve the dispute, but he said the resolution of the dispute was a victory for the rule of law.

“Essentially, compliance with the law tells us that the police department is not the sole arbiter of what should or should not be disclosed with respect to police disciplinary records,” Banks said. “It is a victory for the rule of law and criminal justice reform that prosecutors comply with their discovery obligations and mandate law enforcement cooperate and provide the requisite case information and disciplinary records required to be produced by statute.”

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