BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a motion Friday to intervene in the lawsuit by the unions representing Buffalo police and firefighters against the City of Buffalo. The unions are challenging the city’s commitment to releasing misconduct reports.
The NYCLU filed the motion in partnership with Shearman & Sterling LLP. Without intervention, the NYCLU believes reports will continue to remain secret.
“The release of police misconduct reports is an important interest to the people of Buffalo, and we’re not confident in the City of Buffalo’s ability to adequately represent that interest,” said Phil Desgranges, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “The city has a long history of non-cooperation with requests for information on police misconduct and a flawed understanding of the law as applied to 50-a and police transparency. Without intervention, the history of officers accused of abuse and misconduct will almost certainly remain secret.”
State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita III issued a temporary restraining order on the City of Buffalo in July putting a temporary block on the public release of disciplinary records that are pending, unsubstantiated, or have resulted in a "not guilty" finding.
In court filings, the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association and Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association argue that the release of all disciplinary records could do irreparable harm to the officers or firefighters and their families because some of the records are unsubstantiated.
"The disclosure of Unsubstantiated and Pending Allegations without due process of law is functionally irreversible, and will create unfair, unlawful, and unending notoriety for [union members] and their members, with a significant impact upon their future employment prospects," the petition argued.
This lawsuit by the police and firefighter unions is in response to New York's repeal of Section 50-A of New York's Civil Rights Law in an effort to promote transparency in law enforcement across the state.
Since 50-A was repealed, Buffalo Police have been inundated with Freedom of Information Law requests for officers' disciplinary records.
“The Buffalo Police Department has a long, troubling history of excessive force, and we have a right to know the level of accountability and oversight taking place,” said NYCLU Western Regional Office Director John A. Curr III. “The repeal of 50-a provides an opportunity to shed light on this and yield information critical to rebuilding trust between the department and the community it is supposed to protect and serve. That’s even more necessary after the department’s conduct at the protests in June.”
Michael DeGeorge, spokesperson for the City of Buffalo, issued this statement:
"The City has not opposed any motions to intervene. We believe it's an issue that should consider the positions of a broad cross section of the community to allow the court to arrive at a well-reasoned and thoughtful resolution that will uphold the repeal of 50-a and enhance transparency in policing going forward."
Buffalo's Common Council has asked Buffalo Police for all complaints filed against police officers over the past five years.
The City of Buffalo had until August 14th to submit opposition letters to the court.