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NYPD Hiding Protest-Training Protocols From the Public, Suit Says

 Police line up as protesters mark the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2012.
Police line up as protesters mark the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street on Sept. 17, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Tuan Nguyen

CIVIC CENTER — The NYPD is trying keep the public in the dark about how it trains officers to handle protests, a civil liberties lawyer argued in a suit filed last week.
The NYPD rejected an August 2016 Freedom of Information Law request demanding all training materials and protocols the department uses to teach officers how to handle demonstrations — as well as documentation of how it approves the video surveillance of protests — on the grounds that no such documents exist, lawyer David Thompson wrote in a lawsuit submitted Friday in Manhattan Supreme Court.

But Thompson said the NYPD is lying because they already gave him two department protest management training manuals from 2011 and 2012 as part of a court-ordered discovery process from a different civil rights trial, according to the suit.

Thompson's suit asks a judge to order the NYPD to comply with the FOIL request and turn over the documents, citing Article 78 of the state's penal law, which allows people to argue that a city agency isn't following the law and should be compelled to do so.

“I know it’s not true because I in fact have those materials,” Thompson said, adding that his copy of the NYPD's Nov. 2011 “Mass Arrest Plan” and Jan. 2012 “Lesson Plans for Disorder-Control Formations" are currently under seal at the request of the city preventing him from sharing them with the public.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition, Thompson also cited testimony from Deputy Inspector Anthony Raganella, who runs the NYPD’s Disorder Control Unit, from May 14, 2014, in which he said the NYPD does substantial training in protest management and maintains a database of lesson plans on the subject, according to the lawsuit.

“If in 2014 the NYPD had a major training program going on in DCU, then where are the documents?” he said.

“I’m trying to hold them to their legal obligation of transparency, because when a police force is allowed to operate in secrecy, it leads to rights violations and generally operating at a low level of competence.”

New York’s FOIL guidelines allow for certain exemptions from the law. The NYPD can, for instance, decline to release records that would hamper an ongoing investigation or reveal non-routine investigation techniques.

NYPD records officer Sgt. Jordan Mazur cited this statute in his response to Thompson's August 2016 FOIL request, according to the lawsuit.

But Thompson wrote in his lawsuit that his FOIL request primarily covered the time period between 2007 to Sept. 1, 2013, during the Occupy Wall Street protests, and that there are few ongoing investigations from that period that continue to this day.

“Given the time frame I’d say there’s zero chance that there are any ongoing proceedings that would be affected by this,” he said.