The New York Police Department has been using a secret document to train its officers on how to break a long-standing law that bars police from viewing sealed arrest records of millions of innocent people, according to court papers recently filed in a lawsuit.
The revelation came in a class-action lawsuit concerning the NYPD’s practice of ignoring a state law that protects people from discrimination, harassment, and further legal consequences over old arrests that didn’t result in a conviction, The Intercept reported.
The Bronx Defenders, a public defense organization, brought the lawsuit against New York City and the NYPD.
Several defense lawyers in New York reported that they regularly find NYPD printouts of their clients’ old sealed arrests in prosecutors’ paperwork, and the information is often leaked to the media. Case in point: Eric Garner’s sealed arrest history was leaked to the media after he was killed by police in 2014, The Intercept reported.
“In poor communities of color, people are overpoliced, and bad arrests happen for low-level things that ultimately aren’t proven or that DAs don’t want to prosecute,” said Niji Jain, a lawyer with the Bronx Defenders’ impact litigation practice and one of the attorneys on the case. “If someone has arrests like that, and the NYPD is continuing to target, surveil, and harass that person on the basis of all of those bad arrests from before, that’s not helping any sort of public interest. It’s just re-victimizing that person.”
Despite the law, which was passed in 1976, the NYPD still uses sealed arrests to conduct investigations and make cases, the lawyers claim.
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The NYPD has been rocked as of late with cases of corruption within its ranks.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced in May they were moving to dismiss nearly 200 convictions involving veteran narcotics detective Joseph Franco, who was indicted for lying under oath in 2019, The Gothamist reported.
A letter signed by a coalition of 11 wrongful conviction and public defender organizations was sent to all five borough district attorneys and New York City’s special narcotics prosecutors. In it, the coalition identified 22 additional NYPD officers whose misconduct, they assert, merits the dismissal of all convictions in which they played an essential role.
The 22 NYPD officers have all been convicted for lying, corruption, and other forms of misconduct, but many of the arrests they helped make remain on the books.
The NYPD has admitted that officers have access through at least 14 databases to some 6 million sealed arrests, affecting at least 3.5 million people, The Intercept reported.