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New York Civil Liberties Union sues Suffolk police over misconduct records

A appellate court found Suffolk County Police went too far by putting Susai Francis, an Indian national living on Long Island, back in jail at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
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Suffolk County police vehicle.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Suffolk County Police Department for withholding police misconduct records. The lawsuit comes as courts in the state are divided on how to interpret the repeal of 50-a, the state civil rights law that shielded police misconduct records from the public.

Several jurisdictions, including New York City, have released thousands of pages of internal affairs reports. Nassau and Suffolk counties have released much less. Nassau released a few dozen pages of heavily redacted records while Suffolk released hundreds of pages with some redacted material.

According to court filings, Suffolk County lawyers consider unsubstantiated allegations of an invasion of a police officer’s privacy and withheld those records. They cite Long Island judges who have ruled in favor of Nassau’s limited release.

Lawyers for NYCLU said higher court decisions in Rochester and Syracuse could influence the case in Suffolk.

“I’m always hopeful that it would provide the type of clarity that would encourage a judge in this case to force Suffolk to turn over these documents," said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at NYCLU.

Since repealing 50-a and making misconduct records public, some state lawmakers have proposed further legislation that would prohibit departments from shielding unsubstantiated allegations. However, that bill has not yet advanced.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.