After nearly two years of waiting for a response to a public records request, Gothamist/WNYC is suing the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for its failure to release an internal database the agency created to track NYPD officers flagged for credibility concerns. The database includes a variety of records, which have not been made public before, including NYPD misconduct findings, determinations by judges that officers may have lied on the stand, and prosecutors’ assessments about court rulings that could cast doubt on police testimony.
Gothamist/WNYC first broke news about the Bronx DA’s database and similar ones being developed by the city’s other four borough DAs in April of 2019. Prosecutors maintain these records because they have a constitutional obligation to notify defendants of evidence that could cast doubt on the honesty of officers who may be called to testify against them.
In late 2019, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark became the first DA in New York City to release a handful of her agency’s files on NYPD officers with credibility concerns in response to a separate Gothamist/WNYC public records request. In the months that followed, prosecutors across the city followed suit with similar partial disclosures.
But since then, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office has failed to disclose materials from a much larger, formalized database on NYPD officers’ credibility, which it admitted to having in response to another records request and promised to release by January of last year.
“It’s been almost two years since this request was first submitted and the Bronx DA’s Office has engaged in repeated delays, which amount to flouting New York’s Freedom of Information Law,” said Gideon Oliver, the attorney who is leading the lawsuit on behalf of Gothamist/WNYC. “Over and over again, the Bronx DA’s office promised to produce records and then didn’t without explanation. When an agency does that, a requester has no choice but to sue or stay at the agency’s mercy.”
Over the first three months of 2020, the District Attorney’s Office missed two deadlines before which it had promised to turn over the records. That summer, Bronx prosecutors justified further delays, citing gubernatorial and Office of Court Administration orders which had temporarily halted non-essential court matters due to difficulties caused by COVID-19. Both sets of orders expired late last year. The DA’s Office subsequently failed to turn over the promised records or follow up on the request in any way.
A spokesperson for the Bronx District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the claims raised in Gothamist/WNYC’s petition, but noted that the agency would respond in court.
Nicole Smith Futrell, a law professor at the City University of New York and a former public defender in the Bronx, argues that policy makers and the public cannot properly understand and reform the criminal justice system if these kinds of records remain secret.
“For better or worse, we have a system that is built on credibility, on the word of one person, and very often it is on the word of police officers,” she said. “When folks don’t have that information, they are not able to make informed decisions about policies, about funding, and all of the things that are important in trying to manage our system of policing.”
The District Attorneys’ partial releases thus far, however, have already had some effect on NYPD practices. Last summer, a federal court monitor ordered the police department to incorporate prosecutors’ compilations on officer credibility into an early intervention program, which uses data to flag officers whose behavior may be concerning.
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office is supposed to make its initial response to Gothamist/WNYC’s pending lawsuit early next month.
George Joseph reported this story for the Gothamist/WNYC Race & Justice Unit. If you have a tip, or if you work or have worked in a prosecutor's office, a law enforcement agency or the courts, email reporter George Joseph at email@example.com. You can also text him tips via the encrypted phone app Signal, or otherwise, at 929-486-4865.