Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has become the fourth DA in New York City to release a list of police officers with potential credibility problems.
The list, released to Gothamist/WNYC under the state Freedom of Information Law, names 61 officers whose credibility has been questioned by judges.
It does not include misconduct findings by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau or by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Those records have a higher degree of confidentiality under New York’s civil rights law “50-a,” which shields the release of officer personnel records and has been interpreted expansively by appellate courts over the past decade.
The list was created on December 11, 2019. An accompanying letter notes that an officer’s name in the document “does not necessarily mean that the District Attorney’s Office (“DANY”) concurs with the court’s conclusion.”
Gothamist/WNYC is publishing the list because it has been deemed a public record by the DA’s office.
Prosecutors say they use such lists to help determine whether they need to make disclosures to defense counsel about officers’ potentially suspect credibility.
Police and defense attorneys disagree about the merits of such disclosures. The defense bar has argued that defendants are unable to challenge an officer’s credibility without such information, and may be wrongfully convicted or decide to take a plea deal for something they didn’t do.
But police unions and their supporters argue that the findings can be based on an officers’ confusion, judicial bias or other mitigating factors. The unions have argued that officers face harassment and threats if their personnel records become public.
The disclosure is a significant move for Vance, whose office has been called on by lawmakers and rival DA candidates to release such records. Over the last four months, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens prosecutors have disclosed similar lists.
The Legal Aid Society, New York City’s largest public defenders organization, praised the DA’s disclosure.
“The release of these records is another important step towards transparency,” said Molly Griffard, a Legal Aid fellow who coordinates the organization’s officer misconduct database, CAPstat. “But it is not the last step. We must continue to demand more public access to police misconduct information to allow the public to hold police and the administrations that protect them accountable, including the full repeal of 50a in the upcoming legislative session.”
Legal Aid says it will begin a case review to identify potentially tainted convictions based on the release.
In a statement, Police Benevolent Association president Patrick J. Lynch denounced the move. “Our prosecutors need to wake up and realize that the pro-criminal advocates cannot be appeased. They will not stop until they have baselessly smeared the reputation of every single police officer and rendered any criminal prosecution impossible. It is time for district attorneys to decide whether they will continue fighting on behalf of crime victims, or just raise a white flag over every courthouse in New York State.”
In a statement, the NYPD noted that it solicits judges’ adverse credibility findings from prosecutors, using them to consider possible training, reassignment or investigation. The department has also said it does not consider every such finding to be accurate, and mentioned there is “no mechanism to appeal a finding of adverse credibility against one of our officers.”
The DA also released a batch of disclosure letters it had previously sent to defense attorneys, citing records that could reflect on testifying officers’ credibility. But the office declined to disclose all such information, citing section 50-a.
In April, Gothamist/WNYC was the first to confirm that such lists were being built by all five borough prosecutors offices. Former Manhattan prosecutor Nuala O’Doherty told Gothamist/WNYC then that the list is known in the office as the “bad cops list.”
This story has been updated to clarify when the list was created.
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