The city’s largest police union is asking a judge to stop the NYPD from releasing body camera footage of a deadly police-involved shooting in the Bronx.
In court papers filed Wednesday, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association argued the NYPD shouldn’t be allowed to release video in the Jan. 29 shooting of bike messenger Michael Hansford, 52.
The PBA wants to bar the release of all body cam videos without a court order, or the participating officer’s consent.
“This case challenges the ongoing illegal and politicized release of selective police officer body-worn camera video footage by the Mayor, Bill De Blasio, and the Police Commissioner, James O’Neill,” the union’s lawyer, Michael Bowe, wrote.
The NYPD has released video in a handful of cases. But Bowe slammed the decision-making process as “secret and arbitrary.”
“These selective releases are clearly prohibited by statute and long-standing court precedent, and reflect a reckless disregard for very serious safety, privacy, due process, and other interests held not just by police officers, but also by the individuals who are the subject of recorded video,” he argued.
Maxwell Leighton, a lawyer for the city, countered that the union can’t ask for an injunction under the law.
“It is plain that BWC footage serves many purposes, including an important public transparency purpose, and is fundamentally a factual record of a police interaction, not a confidential ‘personnel record,’” he wrote.
In the Jan. 29 incident, cops fatally shot Hansford, who allegedly attacked his landlord and then lunged at the officers with a combat knife as they responded to a report of a stabbing.
Two cops arrived at Prospect Ave. and E. 181st St. in Belmont around 7:40 p.m., after getting a 911 call that a man was stabbed during a landlord-tenant dispute, sources said.
No one had been stabbed, but the tenant was chasing his landlord with a razor during a rent dispute — and a startled roommate called police.
The landlord later said he fought off the blade-wielding tenant during a kitchen scuffle before police showed up.
Two days after the incident, O’Neill said he reviewed the video and concluded the shooting was within guidelines.
“I am satisfied and I’m glad that the police officers walked away from that safely,” O’Neill said at the time. “It was a violent encounter.”
He said the NYPD plans to release the video in the coming weeks.
In its case, the PBA cited section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law, which the city has interpreted as broadly barring the release of personnel records, including disciplinary records — to much criticism.
The PBA argues the video constitutes a personnel record because it could be used to evaluate an officer’s performance.
“Once the video footage is released onto the internet, there will be no way to put the proverbial cat back in the bag,” Bowe wrote.
But Leighton disagreed.
“Footage is not a personnel record shielded by Civil Rights Law § 50-a,” he responded. “Rather, the video captured by a BWC is simply the factual record of an incident, akin to an arrest report.”
Cynthia Conti-Cook, Staff Attorney with the Civil Litigation Unit at the Legal Aid Society, sided with the city on this issue.
“This is just another Pat Lynch stunt to shield his members who commit abhorrent acts of abuse from public scrutiny and discipline,” she said.
“The City should continue to release this footage unabridged and also revert back to the practice of disclosing Personnel Order summaries of officer misconduct like it has for the past 40 years.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Associate Legal Director Chris Dunn agreed, calling the release of body camera footage “essential for police accountability.”
A court hearing in the case is slated for Friday.