New York’s Senate passed a bill Tuesday to repeal a stringent statute in the state’s civil code that prohibits the release of all personnel records used to evaluate police officers’ performance without permission from the officer or a judge.
The controversial statute, section 50-A of New York State’s Civil Rights law, keeps the personnel records of police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers “confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent” of the officer or by court order.
The law was passed in 1976 to prevent defense lawyers from using “unsubstantiated accusations of abuse or misconduct to undermine the credibility” of an officer testifying in a trial.
Eventually, aided by court decisions, its scope grew wider.
In 2014, the statute became part of a national debate when an NYPD officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was on trial in the death of Eric Garner.
Due to 50-A, Pantaleo’s disciplinary history was blocked from public release.
Recently, in the wake of protests, demonstrations, and riots that have captivated the nation following the death of George Floyd, New York’s Democrat-led legislature has introduced a comprehensive collection of bills targeting police misconduct.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, while acknowledging it will infuriate law enforcement unions, has said he supports the bill and intends to sign it into law.
“Their records will be available,” Cuomo said. “It is just parity and equality with every other public employee.”
In yet another sign of the political pressure New York officials are facing, NYPD officer Vincent D’Andraia was charged with misdemeanor assault, criminal mischief, harassment and menacing on Tuesday, after being recorded on video shoving a 20-year-old woman to the ground and cursing at her during a protest against police brutality in Brooklyn on May 29. Officer D’Andraia is the first NYPD officer to face arrest due to alleged misconduct during the recent protests. In addition, investigators with the NYPD have reportedly recommended misconduct charges against three other officers following a May 2 incident in the East Village, where an officer knelt on the neck of a man he was arresting. Another cop has also been suspended after allegedly being filmed pulling down the face mask of a man and pepper spraying him. On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged for the first time to cut police funding.
Earlier this week, over 750 artists, companies and organizations in and around the music industry signed a petition to repeal 50-A. The open letter, which states, “it is not enough to chip away at 50-A, this boulder in the path of justice has stood in the way for far too long and must be crushed entirely,” was sent Monday evening. Rihanna, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Justin Bieber, Papa Roach, Demi Lovato, J Balvin, Nas and Migos were just some of the artists that signed the petition.