NEW YORK – The New York Civil Liberties Union, with pro bono counsel from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”) for unlawfully denying the NYCLU’s requests for records related to law enforcement misconduct in state prisons. DOCCS, comprised of 16,700 correction officers across 44 prisons, is the department of the New York State government that oversees the state prisons and parole system.
The NYCLU submitted a FOIL request on October 16, 2020, seeking public records specifically authorized to be disclosed under state FOIL after the repeal of Civil Rights Law § 50-a, a statute that had been used for decades to bar the disclosure of misconduct by law enforcement. DOCCS has withheld records related to grievances filed by people in custody and certain investigations of officer misconduct, and it has redacted without proper explanation many more.
“The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision cannot withhold disciplinary records to which the public is legally entitled after the repeal of 50-a,” said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at the NYCLU. “Transparency is essential to law enforcement accountability, and New Yorkers have a right to complete information about officer misconduct that takes place in state prisons. We will continue to fight for a more complete production from DOCCS that would allow the public to evaluate the agency’s investigation and discipline systems.”
Courts statewide have rejected the vast majority of efforts to thwart accountability and disclosure following the repeal of 50-a. This includes two November 2022 decisions from the Fourth Department representing the first appellate-level decisions on the effect of 50-a’s repeal. In those appeals, arising from the NYCLU’s lawsuits against the Syracuse and Rochester police departments, the Appellate Division ruled that police departments must disclose open and unsubstantiated disciplinary records, as well as records predating the 2020 repeal of Section 50-a, to the public.
The proceeding is part of a statewide police transparency campaign in which the NYCLU and pro bono counsel filed state FOIL requests with twelve police departments statewide and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. As part of this campaign, the NYCLU has filed lawsuits against the New York State Police, as well as police departments in Rochester, Syracuse, Freeport, Troy, Buffalo, Nassau County, and Suffolk County for withholding public records.
You can find case materials here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-doccs-0