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Appeal blocks NYCLU’s release of police discipline records

July 31, 2020 Associated Press
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A federal appeals court has halted a civil rights organization’s plan to publish a database of New York City police disciplinary records, the latest twist in a lawsuit by public safety unions seeking to block their disclosure.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals interceded Wednesday after the unions appealed a district court judge’s ruling that had cleared the way for the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to make the records public under a new state transparency reform.

A stay will remain in effect at least until Aug. 18, when the appeals court said it will hear arguments. A district court hearing on other aspects of the case is scheduled for the same day.

A temporary restraining order barring the city’s police watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, as well as the police department and other entities from releasing disciplinary records remains in effect. The CCRB had been providing records to news outlets, including The Associated Press, before the lawsuit was filed.

“We’re pleased that so many news agencies have received and published some newly available information about police abuse,” NYCLU legal director Christopher Dunn said. “We’re committed to pressing forward to be able to publish this database we have lawfully sought and received and which we have been barred from making accessible to the public.”

A spokesperson for the unions, which represent city police officers, firefighters and jail guards, said they were fighting to protect public employees’ due process rights.

The unions sued the city July 15 to block Mayor Bill de Blasio from taking advantage of last month’s repeal of a decades-old state law, which had kept disciplinary records secret, by starting to post misconduct complaints on a government website.

“The release of these records containing unproven allegations would damage the careers and lives of hard-working civil servants,” union spokesperson Hank Sheinkopf said. “The case should be decided on its merits.”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla initially sided with the unions last week, pausing the release of disciplinary records last week and barring the NYCLU from publicly releasing records it obtained from CCRB.

Failla reversed herself on the NYCLU on Tuesday, saying it was impossible for her to reach back and prevent the release of records that the organization received before the unions filed their lawsuit. Her ruling would have allowed the NYCLU to publish the information Thursday, had the unions not appealed.

Scores of disciplinary records have already reached public view since the repeal last month of a law that had kept them secret for decades.

ProPublica on Sunday published a database containing complaint information for thousands of officers, while news outlets including the AP have published numerous stories based on newly public disciplinary documents.

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