The NYPD is declining to share details about an off-duty Queens police officer who was arrested this morning on charges of false imprisonment and assault—citing a "confidential investigation" that legal experts say raises concerns about transparency and preferential treatment.
NYPD Officer Niall ODoherty, 34, was taken into custody this morning, following an unspecified incident that occurred in College Point, Queens back in May. He was charged with false imprisonment, assault with intent to cause injury, and five counts of harassment.
Typically, the NYPD would provide details about the circumstances of the arrest—how exactly had the alleged victim or victims been assaulted and physically restrained by the suspect, for example, or whether they suffered serious injuries.
But in this case, a police spokesperson informed us it was a "confidential investigation" handled by the Internal Affairs Bureau, and therefore the department would not be releasing further details. Detective Denise Moroney would also not answer questions about what degree assault the officer had been charged with.
Instead, the spokesperson directed us to the Queens District Attorney's Office—which is currently overseen by Acting D.A. John Ryan, as votes for the borough's next prosecutor are currently being recounted. The DA's office did not have any information about ODoherty's arrest or when he would be arraigned.
According to civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, the secrecy around the alleged crimes "raises the question of whether a police officer is being treated differently, and on what basis the investigation is confidential."
Such arrest details are very rarely withheld for non-police officers, Siegel noted, and while the discipline records of police officers are subject to a wide swath of protections, there's nothing in the law that states the details of alleged crimes committed by off-duty cops should be withheld from the public.
Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in police accountability and criminal law, added that one possibility is that "this is just the NYPD being the NYPD, and thumbing its nose at the public's need to know."
"Any other city worker in the same situation, including corrections officers and firefighters, might not enjoy the same privacy shield from their employer," he added.
An independent report released earlier this year by two former U.S. Attorneys found the NYPD was suffering from "a fundamental and pervasive lack of transparency." In addition the department's culture of secrecy, the report blamed a controversial reinterpretation of a civil rights statute known as 50-a, which keeps police misconduct and disciplinary records hidden from the public.
The law came under scrutiny during the recent disciplinary trial of the cop who fatally choked Eric Garner, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, as neither the judge in the case nor Police Commissioner James O'Neill will be compelled to disclose the ruling or punishment. Efforts to repeal 50-a failed this year in the New York State legislature.
"The whole issue of transparency the last few years is really troubling," added Siegel. "Information that we think the public should be entitled to seems increasingly held back from the public."