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Don't Release Disciplinary Records of Eric Garner's Killer, Court Says

By Aidan Gardiner | March 31, 2017 3:40pm | Updated on April 3, 2017 9:35am
 The files don't have to be released because they're personnel records, an appeals court ruled.
The files don't have to be released because they're personnel records, an appeals court ruled.
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New York Daily News

STATEN ISLAND — The city doesn't have to release disciplinary records for the NYPD officer who choked Eric Garner to death in 2014 because they're personnel files and could spark retaliation against him, an appellate court ruled Thursday.

The ruling, which reverses a lower court's decision, came just over a week after ThinkProgress published the leaked records of Officer Daniel Pantaleo from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, showing he had seven disciplinary complaints and 14 individual allegations against him.

The city does not need to release them because the documents are considered personnel records and therefore exempt from state Freedom of Information Law, the court ruled.

Disclosing the records could also spark reprisals against Pantaleo and his family, the court said in a unanimous five-judge decision written by Justice John Sweeny.

"The gravity of the threats to Officer Pantaleo's safety nonetheless demonstrate that disclosure carries a 'substantial and realistic potential' for harm, particularly in the form of 'harassment and reprisals,'" Sweeny wrote.

It wasn't clear if there were any threats against the officer or his family since ThinkProgress published the records on March 21. The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The court noted that the NYPD's Threat Assessment Unit was protecting Pantaleo's family "around-the-clock."

The Sweeny decision came the same day as a similar ruling that upheld police disciplinary records generally are exempt from disclosure.

NYPD officials didn't take issue with the courts' decisions, recognizing that they adhere to the law and saying they hoped to soon change the law to make disciplinary records public.

"We have to abide by the laws as written, but we want the law amended in Albany and we're working to get the law amended," said Lawrence Byrne, the deputy commissioner of legal matters.

Police advocates praised the Sweeny decision.

"The release of police officers' personnel files poses a grave safety risk for police officers and their families," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

"Now that these important protections have been reaffirmed, they need to be vigorously enforced. Those who leak police officers' records in defiance of the law and this ruling must be prosecuted," he added.

The junior employee who leaked the document has since left the CCRB.

"After a swift and thorough internal investigation, the Civilian Complaint Review Board identified the employee who was the source of the leak. As of March 23rd, that employee no longer works at CCRB," Jerika Richardson, senior advisor and secretary to the board, said.