SCHENECTADY — The New York State Civil Liberties Union is seeking to get involved in the city police union’s lawsuit over the release of police discipline records.
The NYCLU filed for intervenor status with the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
State Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers was expected to issue a decision as early as Tuesday regarding the release of disciplinary and personnel files for a police officer who was investigated for misconduct following a controversial arrest this summer.
However, Powers adjourned the case until Oct. 27 to give the city Corporation Counsel’s Office and Schenectady PBA a chance to file motions in response to NYCLU’s request.
If permitted by Powers to join the lawsuit, it doesn’t mean the records would be released: The civil liberties watchdog would be barred from releasing any materials.
“Hopefully they’ll let us participate,” said Melanie Trimble, director of the Capital Region Chapter of the NYCLU. “It’s something we specialize in.”
At the heart of the lawsuit are the unsubstantiated and unfounded disciplinary records of Officer Brian Pommer, who knelt on Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud’s head and neck area on July 6 and punched him several times in the torso after he fled while being questioned about a report of slashed tires. Gaindarpersaud incurred minor abrasions as a result of the altercation.
The city has argued all records should be released; the Schenectady PBA wants unsubstantiated claims to be stripped out, contending unfounded allegations would be damaging.
The NYCLU involvement has not yielded a response from the city.
“The city has not taken a position on the matter,” said city Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin following the brief hearing on Tuesday. “Upon review, it’s possible we will revise our position.”
Jack Calareso, attorney for the PBA, declined comment after the hearing on Tuesday, and was followed to his car by nearly a dozen Black Lives Matter activists who peppered him with questions.
“What are you hiding?” asked Lexis Figuereo, an organizer with All of Us. “What if that was your son?”
Activists criticized the delay.
“All Judge Powers has done has been to maintain a system of racism and oppression,” said All of Us co-founder Jamaica Miles.
Koldin on Tuesday also filed a supplemental brief with the court outlining the city’s legal argument, making it likely the matter would have been adjourned to a later date even absent NYCLU’s request to join the lawsuit.
Calareso told Powers he received the brief at noon and hadn’t had a chance to review the documents prior to Tuesday afternoon’s hearing.
Despite the repeal of 50-a earlier this summer, a statute used by municipalities to shield police discipline records, Schenectady PBA filed its lawsuit against the city on Sept. 3 seeking to block the release of the full records, contending they would constitute an invasion of privacy and would harm the reputations of all law enforcement officers — not just Pommer.
Activists and transparency advocates, however, have called for full transparency.
Following the arrest, the Daily Gazette and other media outlets filed Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for Pommer’s disciplinary file, requests that were denied by the city, which cited the pending litigation.
Schenectady PBA is among the several unions representing police departments across the state who have sought to block release of unsubstantiated and pending claims, including those in New York City and Buffalo, where state Supreme Court Justice Frank Sedita III rejected a similar effort last week.
Pommer has been sanctioned at least once by the city police department during his seven-year tenure.
Records released by the city last week revealed Pommer was suspended for three days after failing to enforce social distancing mandates at an embattled local ice cream parlor at the height of the pandemic this spring.
Pommer acknowledged making “unprofessional and inappropriate remarks” after responding to Bumpy’s Polar Freeze on April 6 and was suspended for three days. He was also stripped of his role on the department’s SWAT “entry team.”
It’s unclear if the sanction, which did not yield a formal disciplinary charge under proceedings police brass characterized as “informal,” marked the entirety of Pommer’s disciplinary record.
Powers indicated during last month’s hearing that Pommer’s record contains cases that resulted in a “counseling” notice.
Critics against releasing records claim personnel files would include the home addresses of law enforcement officers. However, the legislation prohibits the release of that information, and the materials released by the city last week did not contain Pommer’s personal information.