Court Holds NYPD In Contempt For Refusing To Hand Over Documents Related To Black Live Matter Surveillance

from the momentary-stay-of-the-judicial-backhand dept

The NYPD continues to extend a middle finger to every entity that isn’t the NYPD. The department’s long history of doing everything it can to thwart public records requesters has been discussed here several times. It’s not on much better terms with its oversight, which it routinely ignores when directed to do something about its officers’ routine rights violations and deployment of excessive force.

If it’s not going to be accountable to the public — either via FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) compliance or respecting the decisions of its oversight — it’s certainly not going to let the judicial branch push it around.

The NYPD has 30 days to turn over surveillance videos of Black Lives Matter protesters after a Manhattan judge ruled Wednesday that the department flouted his previous order to disclose the records.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez, who issued the contempt of court ruling, stopped short of immediately imposing sanctions on the police. Instead, he said the NYPD could “purge” the contempt ruling by turning over more material related to the monitoring of protesters at Grand Central Terminal in November 2014 and January 2015 within a month.

This ruling arrives eight months after the NYPD made a mockery of an earlier court order on records disclosure, turning over nothing more than a few pieces of paper and short, blurry cell phone recording of Black Lives Matter protesters. According to Judge Mendez, the NYPD’s efforts to comply with the FOIL request at the heart of the lawsuit have been “disingenuous” at best.

Undoubtedly, the NYPD has a large number of records related to its surveillance of protesters. It just doesn’t want to release them. The NYPD has repeatedly engaged in surveillance of First Amendment activity. That’s the sort of thing one should expect from a law enforcement agency that views protests and terrorism as two sides of the same coin. When that’s your viewpoint, you get you a special operations unit that can do both: the Strategic Response Group, which, according to the Mayor, is capable of handling both protests or “attacks like those in Mumbai.”

Mendez may have issued a ruling of contempt, but city lawyers aren’t exactly springing into action to comply with the judge’s February order. According to the city, it’s still “weighing its options” and angsting away uselessly.

The city’s Law Department immediately cried foul, saying it is reviewing its legal options and is “deeply concerned with this ruling and the dilemma in which it places the city.”

“On the one hand, we are constrained by genuine security concerns from explaining publicly how disclosure could endanger the lives and safety of undercover officers,” a Law Department spokesman said. “On the other hand, we were not afforded an opportunity to explain those concerns to the court in a non-public setting.

Well, I call bullshit. There’s not a court in the land that won’t allow in camera hearings or ex parte submissions where the government can attempt to explain its refusal to hand over evidence or documents. I’m sure Judge Mendez would have allowed it if he thought this sort of hearing was appropriate. Chances are he would have been much more amenable to the city’s request for a private explanation if it had engaged in a little more good faith effort during its search for relevant documents.

If the city returns to court with nothing more than its unearned dismay, the judge will probably start issuing sanctions. As it stands now, the NYPD has the choice of producing more responsive documents or submit sworn affidavits explaining why it can’t — or won’t — turn over more documents related to its surveillance of Black Lives Matter protesters.

It’s hard to imagine what sanctions will have a lasting deterrent effect on the NYPD. Everything else that’s been tried hasn’t produced a more accountable entity. Short of jailing some top brass, any punishment the court hands out will likely be suffered by the public, especially if it’s nothing more than fines the NYPD can pay with other people’s money.

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Comments on “Court Holds NYPD In Contempt For Refusing To Hand Over Documents Related To Black Live Matter Surveillance”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wrong guy. It’s usually that Cristopher guy that comes to the rescue of any cop when these stories pop. I guess his limit was cops forcing an underage boy to masturbate to generate evidence. Like an article these days. I haven’t seen any comment from him there. I do suspect it was because the cop was dealing with child abuse charges outside of work though otherwise he’d be there defending the cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

MyNameHere comes pretty close, though.

After all, he’s defended shooting the backs of fleeing, unarmed citizens because this is a “me! me! me!” generation of confident law-flouters. Can you imagine the stress that a policeman has to undergo, armed with only a firearm against a naked stranger’s crotch rocket?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think crime will rise as much as it will transfer from the Cops controlling the crime in the city to non NYPD entities calling the shots. the NYPD clearly has become so corrupt that it doesn’t even care about contempt charges or court orders. Time to burn down the whole thing and start fresh with no corruption strangling due process to death.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

I am all in favor of the Commissioner being found in contempt and forced to spend a few days in jail until the documents and video are turned over. After two days then the top Deputy Commissioner can join him. And two days after that the next in line. Then the next in line after that.

The Judge could also borrow some space from the Federal Manhattan Detention Center to insure that they aren’t given the luxury treatment while detained.

Jeff Green (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

My only modification would be that allowing these officials a whole day is overdoing it, jail an official every 2 hours, and if after 2 days they haven’t complied start a draw from all senior police and legal department employees of the NYPD. It should take a year or two before the whole department have been jailed.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A court must allow time for the other side to respond. Currently, the ultimate authority for releasing the documents and video is with the Commissioner. If he is indisposed then the Deputy Commissioner is responsible. And so on. A court wouldn’t be able to just jail people that have no responsibility here. They need the responsibility before they can be targeted.

I think the current record for being jailed for contempt is 14 years. In a divorce, the husband refused to disclose where his wealth was hidden. The judge jailed him for contempt until he revealed where the money was.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“A court must allow time for the other side to respond.”

Because 8 months is not enough right?

If the ruling was against a citizen, the judge would not be issuing a contempt order with a 30 days grace period he would likely being issuing a warrant for arrest until the requested materials are turned over as required.

ralph_the_bus_driver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“If the ruling was against a citizen, the judge would not be issuing a contempt order with a 30 days grace period”

Not quite how it works.

The plaintiff (BLM) would have sent a DISCOVERY request for the material eight months ago. After some time has passed and the NYPD has not responded, they will ask the court for an order. That request will take a month or two to schedule a hearing and could be another month or two in the future. Then during the hearing the Judge will ask why the NYPD did not respond.

The NYPD may even argue that the discovery request is unreasonable. That may end up involving separate hearings. Usually, the Judge will give the other party some time to respond.

This stuff can take well over a year, especially depending on how busy the court is. This is a tactic well used by many unscrupulous businesses, such as Trump. They drag out the process until the poor shmuck that is suing goes broke.

Some judges will cut through the BS, but not all.

Anonymous Coward says:

What judgement would provide a lasting deterrent effect?

The plaintiffs, having duly sworn to protect the privacy of the citizenry with the supervision of this court, are hereby authorized to confiscate upon demand any digital recording device in the possession of, and under the control of, the NYPD, as well as any digital recording device used for official duties under the control of any individual officer of the NYPD.

Surrender of such devices will be conducted in a fashion indended to provide a minimum of disruption to the NYPD in the sole opinion of the court appointed mediator, while still complying with this order.

The court will view broadly the subject matters upon with the plaintiffs may release to the public.

The court will consider Contempt charge against any individual under the direction of the NYPD that obstructs the implementation of this order.


If airing ALL their dirty laundry at once doesn’t scare them into cooperation, well… there may be a lot of early retirement going around.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"I mean it this time, you'd better respect my authority(pretty please?)!"

This ruling arrives eight months after the NYPD made a mockery of an earlier court order on records disclosure, turning over nothing more than a few pieces of paper and short, blurry cell phone recording of Black Lives Matter protesters.

Hmm, wonder what the average new yorker would face if they flipped the bird to a judge for eight months? Pretty sure it would be just a wee bit more than ‘Now you better follow orders this time or I’ll be really angry and will shake my fingers at you even more!’

Either call them on their actions and start handing out real punishments for non-compliance or get the hell out of the courtroom and let someone with a spine take the case.

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