Mimesis Law
10 August 2020

Ramapo Cops Claim To Need Special Protection From FOIL Requests

May 12, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Ramapo Police Department for refusing to comply with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking the release of unredacted reports involving the use of force, car stops, detentions, discipline of officers and other issues.

The FOIL request stems from a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by four African-American state parole officers, who allege that Ramapo police officers violated their civil rights during a traffic stop in April, 2014. The officers, who were detained at gunpoint for nearly an hour despite identifying themselves as law enforcement, claim that they were victims of racial profiling.

Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein claimed the town had only withheld information it believed would jeopardize the safety of its officers, and had willingly turned over hundreds of pages of requested documents to the NYCLU without incident.

New York Civil Rights Law § 50-a specifically exempts police, firefighter, and corrections officer personnel records from disclosure. It is one of the only states to exempt police personnel files from its open records law, including internal affairs files, civilian complaints and disciplinary findings. The New York State legislature enacted 50-a in 1976 to prevent what the Legislature called “vexatious” use of personnel and misconduct records of law enforcement officers, particularly in court cases. But because of section 50-a, FOIL “affords the public far less access to information about the activities of police departments than virtually any other public agency,” said a report issued last December by the state Committee on Open GovernmentThe report also recommended the repeal of 50-a, or at the very least, substantial changes. 

Unsurprisingly, police unions are opposed to changes in this law. Delroy Burton, chairman of the Washington, D.C., Police Union, told WNYC:

It’s intrusive to have unfettered access to these records. It allows people to go on witch hunts of police officers. Even if someone saw that an officer was accused of misconduct and cleared of the allegations, that’s the only thing they’d focus on. They would take that accusation and run with it.  Not only could this ruin his career, it could put him or his family in danger.

Michael Paladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association,  added, “defense attorneys may take a minor situation and blow it out of proportion,” which could “possibly sway a jury to allow a criminal to be set free.” Or, of course, an innocent defendant arrested or harmed by a cop whose history of abuse and misconduct remains concealed under § 50-a.

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