New York moves swiftly toward eliminating police secrecy law
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers striving for a new era of police accountability are poised to repeal a state law that has long kept police officers’ disciplinary records secret, one of several steps to rein in officers spurred by the national uproar over the death of George Floyd.
As the state legislature worked toward eliminating the law Tuesday, New York City prosecutors moved swiftly to bring criminal charges against a police officer caught on camera shoving a protester to the ground during a demonstration in Brooklyn.
Police unions declared that officers were being abandoned, and condemned lawmakers for allowing themselves to be influenced by protests in which officers were injured by thrown objects and police vehicles were burned.
Eliminating the law, known as Section 50-a, would make complaints against officers, as well as transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings, public for the first time in decades.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has recently supported reforming the law, has said in the wake of the protests that he will sign the repeal. Only Delaware has a similar law.
Momentum for ending the secrecy law reached a crescendo in recent days as marchers filled streets in Brooklyn, Manhattan and elsewhere to rally against police abuses — amplifying the calls of reform advocates who spent years pushing for change in the wake of other high-profile police killings, including that of Eric Garner in 2014.
“This is no time for rejoicing,” said State Senator Kevin Parker, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn. “This bill has been around for over a decade … And the only reason why we’re bringing it to the floor now because the nation is burning."
The legislature on Monday passed other police accountability measures, banning police from using chokeholds, guaranteeing the right to record police activity and making it easier to file lawsuits against people making race-based 911 calls.
State lawmakers Tuesday were also expected to pass bills providing all state troopers with body cameras and ensuring that officers get proper medical and mental health attention for people under arrest or in custody.
As lawmakers acted on accountability legislation, NYPD Officer Vincent D’Andraia was being arraigned on assault and other charges days after a bystander recorded him pushing protester Dounya Zayer, causing her to hit her head on the pavement.
D’Andraia was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. The officer was ordered to stay away from Zayer who was hospitalized after the May 29 altercation with what she said were a concussion and a seizure.
“Dounya was assaulted for the very reason she was protesting, and that’s police brutality," said Zayer’s attorney, Tahanie Aboushi, adding that D’Andraia's supervisor should face punishment beyond an announced reassignment.
“If not for this being on video it would have been business as usual for the NYPD," Aboushi said.
In a statement announcing the charges, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said he was “deeply troubled by this unnecessary assault.” Zayer, 20, called D’Andraia a coward and suggested the assault would only deepen mistrust of law enforcement.
“I was protesting for a reason,” Zayer said in a video tweeted from her hospital bed. The officer, she added, “should have had the self restraint to not hurt the people he’s supposed to be protecting.”
The police department suspended D’Andraia, 28, last week without pay. His lawyer, Stephen Worth, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. If convicted, he could face a year behind bars, but first-time offenders rarely see any jail time.
D’Andraia is the first New York City police officer to face criminal charges over alleged misconduct exhibited during days of unrest that roiled the city in the wake of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Two Buffalo officers were charged with assault last week after they were seen on video shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground.
D’Andraia’s union said de Blasio and police leaders were “sacrificing cops to save their own skin” by sending officers out to protests with “no support and no clear plan.”
“They should be the ones facing this mob-rule justice,” Police Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch said. “We will say it again: New York City police officers have been abandoned by our leadership. We are utterly alone in our efforts to protect our city.”