Police, firefighter and correction officers unions have asked a judge to block the release of officers’ disciplinary records in cases where claims against them are unsubstantiated following Albany’s repeal 50-A law, according to new court papers.
The some 60,000 officers who are represented in the lawsuit, claim that when the records concerning officers disciplinary matters are released beginning as early as Wednesday, they will also include non-final and unsubstantiated allegations.
The unproven allegations cannot be allowed to be publicized in an internet “data dump” because it will “absolutely destroy the reputation and privacy — and imperil the safety — of many of those firefighters and officers,” the Manhattan lawsuit from late Tuesday alleges.
The so-called 50-a law — which previously prevented officers disciplinary records from being publicly released — was overturned in a wave of reform sparked by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The release would also violate the collective bargaining agreements that the unions have in place, the suit claims, arguing it would also violate their constitutional right to due process, breach thousands of previously hashed-out settlement agreements and violate a longstanding practice of deeming unsubstantiated allegations as being exempt from disclosure, the court papers claim.
The officers don’t object to the release of records in cases where allegations have been proven and finalized.
“It takes no evidence to make a complaint against a firefighter, corrections officer, or police officer,” the court documents say. “Baseless claims can be levied for any number of nefarious motivations.”
“Without the safeguards of proof and finality, the lives of firefighters, officers, and their families may be irreparably ruined,” the suit continues.
The officers are asking a judge to issue a temporary order blocking the release of the unsubstantiated, non-final allegations and settlement agreements that were reached before June 12, 2020. They are also seeking to hold a court hearing on the matter.
“This is not a challenge to the public right to know. This is not about transparency. We are defending privacy, integrity and the unsullied reputations of thousands of hard-working public safety employees,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for the group of unions.
But a spokesman for the city Law Department responded to the suit saying, “This legal effort is an attempt to halt the city’s compliance with a state law requiring increased transparency to the public.
“The repeal of 50-a brings fairness to the way disclosures are handled for city employees across the board. We believe the arguments have no merit and we’ll defend against the claims in federal court.”