The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) took legal action against the City of Yonkers and the Yonkers Police Department. Their motion accuses the city of unlawfully denying their request for records pertaining to police misconduct.
The NYCLU submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request on September 15th, 2020. It sought public records that were authorized to be disclosed following the repeal of Civil Rights Law ? 50-a. Since the repeal, police departments have been required to make these records available to the public.
The lawsuit, submitted on Friday, June 16th, alleges that the Yonkers Police Department has wrongfully withheld disciplinary records and redacted the names of officers without proper explanation. Furthermore, the department has refused to search for documents dating back to before 2011.
A larger campaign
This legal action is part of a broader effort by the NYCLU to promote police transparency throughout the state. In collaboration with pro bono counsel, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the organization has filed FOIL requests with 12 police departments across New York. Additionally, they have filed lawsuits against various agencies that have failed to provide the full requests as requested.
Police transparency is now codified into law, and police departments can no longer respond to an investigation into pervasive patterns of discrimination with foot-dragging delays or by arguing that the police must be trusted to police themselves. If the Yonkers Police Department will not release these records, we are confident the courts will require them to do so.Bobby Hodgson – Supervising Attorney at NYCLU
The NYCLU’s campaign for police transparency has gained traction in the courts. In November 2022, the Appellate Division issued two decisions related to the repeal of Section 50-a. In those cases-which arose from the NYCLU’s lawsuits against the Syracuse and Rochester police departments-the court ruled that law enforcement agencies must disclose open and unsubstantiated disciplinary records, as well as records predating the repeal.
The Yonkers Police Department has frequently faced lawsuits over its conduct. For many years it was even under federal oversight for the volume and severity of the complaints against it. Given the aforementioned court rulings on similar cases, the common-sense expectation is that the YPD will have to publicly revisit some of this sordid history.