Updated: March 30, 2017, 11:37 PM
BY STEPHEN REX BROWN
The city cannot release the disciplinary records of the cop who used a chokehold to kill Eric Garner — in part because of repeated threats to the officer’s life, an appeals court ruled on Thursday.
The ruling was issued by a five-judge panel just over a week after disciplinary records tied to Officer Daniel Pantaleo were leaked.
In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Division First Department in Manhattan noted that Pantaleo and his family have been under “around-the-clock protection” by the NYPD since he was identified as the cop who choked Garner on Staten Island in July 2014.
“We find that 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, and that nondisclosure of the requested records … is warranted,” Justice John Sweeny wrote.
A Civilian Complaint Review Board employee leaked details of Pantaleo’s record to the website ThinkProgress. The cop had four civilian complaints substantiated against him prior to killing Garner, but was only docked two vacation days as punishment, the documents showed.
The leaker, who has not been publicly identified, resigned from the CCRB. But sources told the Daily News he was a relatively new employee who worked on the CCRB’s Sealed Evidence Collection squad, which gathers evidence and interviews witnesses.
Patrick Lynch, who heads the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, praised the reversal of the lower court.
“The release of police officers’ personnel files poses a grave safety risk for police officers and their families,” Lynch said.
The Legal Aid Society had sued for a summary of Pantaleo’s disciplinary history, arguing that the limited information did not constitute the cop’s “personnel file.” But the judges rejected that argument.
In a separate decision, the same mid-level appeals court also rejected a broader challenge by the New York Civil Liberties Union of Mayor de Blasio’s decision last year to withhold the outcome of disciplinary decisions of officers.
The NYPD previously released brief summaries of disciplinary outcomes, but de Blasio said city attorneys realized they’d been misinterpreting section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law for over 30 years.
“While we advocate for a state legislative change that would increase the transparency of the police disciplinary process, today’s decisions make clear that we must adhere to the law as it currently exists,” de Blasio spokesman Austin Finan said.
The rulings were a blow to police reform advocates seeking more transparency from the NYPD.
“This decision has put the police in the position to deal with what they consider internal matters without any public oversight,” said attorney David Thompson, who successfully sued for information on surveillance of Black Lives Matter protesters in Grand Central Terminal.
WITH GRAHAM RAYMAN