The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the city Department of Correction for access to internal disciplinary records of its officers, in which they say only a fraction of files has been publicly disclosed.
The NYCLU filed the suit in Manhattan State Supreme Court on Friday after claiming their request for access to disciplinary records through the Freedom of Information Law was ignored. The NYCLU initially made the request in April, arguing they were entitled to those records after last year's repeal of the state's 50-a law, which shielded disciplinary records of officers from public view.
While DOC has released a database of officers who had faced punishment for misconduct going back to 2019, including excessive force, an illegal chokehold, and at least one instance where a guard kicked a detainee while in custody, the NYCLU says these public records do not go far enough in providing transparency. They say it does not list names of officers whose cases were deemed unsubstantiated, meaning there was not enough evidence to proceed with discipline, providing a narrow scope of complaints. The public data also omits any substantiated case involving drug smuggling or sexual assault committed by guards, according to the suit.
"Long-standing issues within the NYC DOC, including years-long delays in the resolution of complaints, issues of impunity, and a lack of consistent corrective disciplinary action imply a large universe of unresolved and unsubstantiated complaints within the NYC DOC," read the suit. "[A]ny non-published internal version of that same database could reveal a great deal about the numbers of unresolved, unsubstantiated, or abandoned misconduct complaints that have yet to see the light of day."
The NYCLU filed a similar lawsuit early this month against the NYPD, requesting access to records.
A spokesperson for DOC referred questions to the city's Law Department, where a spokesperson said it's reviewing the suit.
The suit comes amid the ongoing crisis happening inside the city's jail systems, notably Rikers Island, where more than a dozen detainees under DOC custody have died this year. A federal monitor appointed to track conditions at Rikers said in his report released this month that his team is "gravely concerned" about conditions at Rikers, citing cases of violence among detainees, lax security, and increased instances of extreme use-of-force committed by guards.
The monitor questioned whether high-ranking DOC leaders "possess the level of competency to safely manage the jails."
Mayor Bill de Blasio has consistently said the city and state are making efforts to improve conditions, including transferring select detainees to upstate prisons.
"And we've been working closely with the State on this, reduce population, bringing more of the officers back, find ways to have other functions handled by other people so the officers are freed up," de Blasio said at a news briefing on October 20th. "We're doing all these things simultaneously to improve health, safety, the overall environment, as we make bigger changes."