Five years after one of the most notorious police shootings of the decade, the NYPD took a decisive step away from transparency and accountability in denying a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed by the New York Daily News for the records from the departmental trial of Officer Richard Haste.
Haste just stood trial before an administrative judge on charges that he violated NYPD policy in the actions he took leading to him shooting and killing 18-year-old Ramarley Graham on February 2, 2012.
Haste was staking out a Bronx bodega hoping to bust a drug deal in progress, when he saw Graham leaving the store with what he thought was a gun in his waistband. Haste and another officer followed Graham home, where they kicked down his front door and entered. Moments later, Haste shot Graham—in front of his grandmother and six-year-old brother—as the teenager was flushing a small bag of marijuana down the toilet. No weapon was ever recovered.
The departmental trial is the latest reckoning for Haste, who was indicted for manslaughter but saw the charges dismissed after a procedural error by prosecutors in 2013. A subsequent grand jury declined to indict him a second time. In 2015, Graham's family settled a wrongful death suit against the city for $3.9 million. Haste is still on NYPD desk duty and his salary has increased by $30,000 since 2012, according to Gothamist.
NYPD departmental trials are strange. A judge writes an opinion recommending whether or not the charges against an officer should be upheld and what level of discipline—including dismissal from the police force—should be imposed. But that opinion can be overruled by the police commissioner. And although the NYPD made officer disciplinary records public for decades, it abruptly stopped doing so last year, citing a previously unknown state law which the department has interpreted is meant to protect officer privacy. NYPD Police Commissioner James O'Neill has said he would make an exception to that law—just this one time—and release the judge's recommendation on Haste's fate.
But here's where the NYPD's policy gets even stranger. Although the trial was open to the public, the NYPD has denied the Daily News' FOIL request to obtain the written record of the trial, citing that same law protecting officer privacy which Commissioner O'Neill says he will make an exception for in this case, but only for the result, not for the records.
Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the Daily News, "This denial perfectly illustrates the absurdity of the secrecy surrounding the NYPD's disciplinary process," adding, "It makes zero sense to refuse to release documents that were discussed and introduced into evidence at a trial that was fully open to the public."
The New York Civil Liberties Union and ten news organizations, including The New York Times, have filed suit against the city to change the NYPD's transparency practices, arguing that the current secrecy "deprive[s] journalists of information needed to accurately report on discipline imposed by [the] NYPD and to hold it accountable to the public it serves."
A decision by the First Judicial Department appeals court is expected within the next month.