A police officer wears the patch of the Nassau County...

A police officer wears the patch of the Nassau County Poice Department at Nassau County Police Headquarters in Mineola in 2016. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the Nassau County Police Department for refusing to release police misconduct records that were made publicly accessible following the police killing of George Floyd.

The NYCLU and Manhattan-based law firm Milbank LLP filed a lawsuit late Friday seeking to force the police department to provide all of its records detailing alleged police misconduct dating back to 2000 in response to a public records request the NYCLU submitted more than a year ago.

"The Nassau County Police Department has thrown the kitchen sink at this request, obstructing police transparency and accountability at every turn," Bobby Hodgson, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, said in a statement. "NCPD’s argument that it can shield all unsubstantiated and pre-June 2020 misconduct complaints from public scrutiny has been rejected by multiple courts that have considered it, because courts recognize that these records are key to accountability."

A police department spokesman referred a request for comment to the county attorney.

A county spokesman said in a statement: "Nassau County does not comment on current or anticipated litigation."

The NYCLU had requested — under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL — records alleging police misconduct, including those that were substantiated and complaints that were not substantiated, dating back to Jan. 1, 2000.

The NYCLU, in its suit, said it "sought to vindicate the public’s right to information that the New York State Legislature recognized as vital to understanding how police disciplinary and accountability mechanisms function."

What to know

  • The New York Civil Liberties Union on Friday sued the Nassau County Police Department for refusing to release police misconduct records that were made publicly accessible following the police killing of George Floyd.
  • The suit is seeking to force the police department to provide all of its records detailing alleged police misconduct dating back to 2000, in response to a public records request the NYCLU submitted more than a year ago.
  • The police department had denied the request for all records of police misconduct complaints prior to June 2020 – when the state legislature repealed 50-a, the state civil rights law that shielded police misconduct records from the public since 1976.

The police department denied the request for all records of police misconduct complaints prior to June 2020 — when the state legislature repealed 50-a, the state civil rights law that shielded police misconduct records from the public since 1976.

The legislature acted after widespread outrage following the May 2020 killing of Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, despite protests by politically powerful police unions.

The NYCLU had sought records from 12 police departments, including Nassau, Suffolk, Hempstead and Freeport. The NYCLU has already sued Freeport, Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo over its records requests.

Several courts have sided with the NYCLU, but in May, a judge hearing the Syracuse lawsuit ruled against organization, saying unsubstantiated misconduct complaints against police officers do not have to be released.

Nassau County Police headquarters in Mineola in 2020.

Nassau County Police headquarters in Mineola in 2020. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Newsday filed a lawsuit against the Nassau County Police Department in February after the department provided only 43 pages of records in response to a Newsday FOIL for discipline records. Most of the material was redacted. That suit is awaiting a judge's ruling.

According to the NYCLU suit against Nassau police, the NYCLU filed a FOIL on Sept. 15, 2020, requesting records on officer discipline, use of force, stops and field interviews, civilian complaints, the Internal Affairs Unit, investigative reports, diversity statistics, policies and trainings, and the department's labor union agreements.

The police department failed to respond to the request within the 45 days it promised, the suit said. A Dec. 11 letter from Det. Christine McDonald of the Legal Bureau denied access to much of the material sought, calling the request "not reasonably described," according to the suit.

"Even if the request was reasonably described, the Department is unable to comply with the request due to its breadth, the available Department resources, and the inability of the Department to utilize an outside vendor at this time to comply with the request," McDonald wrote.

The police department rescinded its denial after the NYCLU clarified several of its requests, according to the suit.

But "after months of waiting, and following multiple efforts to obtain a response from NCPD," according to the suit, the NYCLU filed an administrative appeal in May.

The police department's response to the appeal, according to the lawsuit, argued that records created before the repeal of 50-a were not subject to disclosure and that police officers' union contracts "purportedly override" the repeal of 50-a.

In a statement, Susan Gottehrer, the Nassau County regional director at the NYCLU, said: "The Nassau County Police Department cannot deny the fact that 50-a was repealed, and police transparency is essential to police accountability. We will continue to take action to ensure 50-a is repealed in theory and practice across New York State by obtaining full documentation of misconduct long withheld from the public."

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