SLive.com: Push to repeal cop secrecy law

By Sydney Kashiwagi, October 16

CITY HALL — Lawmakers, advocates and the families of victims of police violence gathered on the steps of City Hall Wednesday demanding a law that prevents the public from accessing police disciplinary records, known as 50-a, be repealed.

The rally came ahead of a series of hearings on 50-a, slated to begin Thursday, as Democratic lawmakers push forward with legislation in the upcoming legislative session that would repeal the more than a decades-old law.

Advocates said they would accept nothing less than a full repeal of 50-a.

The mother of Eric Garner, Gwen Carr, said that for years, the law has prevented her from knowing the full extent of Island Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s disciplinary history and other officers involved in her late son’s death.

She said if it were not for leaks in the press about Pantaleo’s previous disciplinary history, the public would have never known about the Island officer’s previous civil rights lawsuits.

“We still yet don’t know, the disciplinary records of all the other officers and not even the complete record of Pantaleo,” Carr said. “The only way we got it was through leaks. Why should we get crumbs of information through leaking of the media?”

Details about the results of Pantaleo’s NYPD disciplinary trial were also supposed to be protected under 50-a, but the judge’s recommendation to fire the officer was also leaked to the press.

Though Democrats are now fully in control of the state legislature it is unclear whether all Democrats support a full repeal of the law.

Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D), who voted against the law in the 1970s said he was unsure whether Speaker Carl Heastie supported the bill. Heastie’s office did not return requests for comment at press time.

The Island’s three Democratic state lawmakers also either did not respond to requests for comment at press time or declined to comment when asked whether they plan to support the legislation.

State Sen. Diane Savino’s office said the North Shore lawmaker would withhold comment until reviewing the bill further at the upcoming hearings.

“The reason a small handful of legislators voted against 50-a back in [the 1970s] is really the same arguments that we’ve been hearing today,” Gottfried said. “Although it is clear from the debate 43 years ago that the interpretation of the law has gone way beyond what the sponsors of the bill said it would do.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill have both signaled support for repealing 50-a in recent years.

But police reform advocates have criticized the de Blasio administration for hiding behind the law when pressed for answers about police misconduct.

Asked Wednesday about his position on the law and pushback from critics, mayoral spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said: “The Mayor has been vocal in his advocacy of 50-a reform.”

Meanwhile, the NYPD directed the Advance to an opinion piece from the police commissioner published earlier this year voicing his support for reforming state law.

“Passing this legislation does not mean that we are anti-police, that we do not very much support our men and women in blue, however, if we do not repeal section 50-a, public trust in our law in this administration will continue to be eroded,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.