Above Photo: Anti-police brutality protesters gather in Grand Central Station on Jan. 15, 2015. (SAM COSTANZA/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
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The NYPD has 30 days to turn over surveillance videos of Black Lives Matter protesters after a Manhattan judge ruled Wednesday that the department flouted his previous order to disclose the records.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez, who issued the contempt of court ruling, stopped short of immediately imposing sanctions on the police. Instead, he said the NYPD could “purge” the contempt ruling by turning over more material related to the monitoring of protesters at Grand Central Terminal in November 2014 and January 2015 within a month.
Mendez first ordered the NYPD to turn over records in February — but thus far the department has only turned over one blurry cell phone video and other limited information.
The NYPD’s interpretation of the term “multimedia records” was “disingenuous,” Mendez wrote.
The NYPD chose “to use their interpretation over what this court actually stated,” Mendez wrote, adding that the department “failed to substantially comply” with his order.
The city’s Law Department immediately cried foul, saying it is reviewing its legal options and is “deeply concerned with this ruling and the dilemma in which it places the city.”
“On the one hand, we are constrained by genuine security concerns from explaining publicly how disclosure could endanger the lives and safety of undercover officers,” a Law Department spokesman said. “On the other hand, we were not afforded an opportunity to explain those concerns to the court in a non-public setting.”
The case, brought by protester James Logue, challenged the NYPD’s denial of a Freedom of Information Law request for information on its monitoring of rallies after the police killings of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Logue filed the request because he suspected police were compiling “dossiers” on protesters.
Logue’s attorney, David Thompson, has accused the NYPD of lying in the case and said the department routinely denies public records requests without proper justification.
“This is a systematic breach of the public trust by the NYPD that is also contrary to the law. They’re doing it each and every day,” Thompson said. “Who is going to write them a ticket? Judge Mendez just wrote them a ticket.”
The department had fought efforts to reveal details about their surveillance tactics, saying it could endanger officers. City attorneys also invoked the threat of terrorism.
But Mendez wrote the NYPD “made conclusory, speculative and overly broad arguments” against the request for surveillance information.
The NYPD’s limited disclosure has already revealed that undercover cops had received group text messages sent to the upper ranks of Black Lives Matter organizers.
Thompson, an attorney at Stecklow & Thompson, said the case also sets a precedent for other fights over NYPD records. Oral arguments are scheduled next month in a somewhat similar case regarding disclosure of the NYPD’s use of Stingray technology to monitor cell phones.
“We can use this to compel the law-breaking organization to follow the law,” Thompson said, referring to the NYPD.
If the NYPD does not find additional records it must submit a sworn statement explaining why, Mendez said.