SCHENECTADY — The union representing Schenectady police officers has lost its bid to keep some police disciplinary records sealed.
The city must release all disciplinary files for the city police officer who was involved in a controversial arrest this summer, including unsubstantiated claims and unfounded or uncharged allegations, state Supreme Court Justice Mark Powers ruled on Tuesday, dismissing a lawsuit filed against the city by the Schenectady Police Benevolent Association.
At the heart of the lawsuit was the personnel record of Officer Brian Pommer, who knelt on the head of Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud in July, a case that drew parallels to the death of George Floyd weeks earlier.
The police union sued to block the release of unfounded allegations in the files after media outlets, including The Daily Gazette, sought those records from the city following the arrest. The police union argued that the disclosure of unfounded claims would be damaging.
But the city contended Pommer’s full disciplinary jacket should be released, citing the repeal of 50-a, the state statute that long shielded records from release.
Powers on Tuesday ordered the temporary injunction blocking the release of those documents to be vacated immediately, paving the way for the city to release the remainder of Pommer’s file, including a case in which the officer was issued a “counseling notice.”
The Schenectady PBA and city Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin declined comment on Tuesday.
Powers acknowledged that 50-a “squarely secured” police misconduct records for over four decades, rendering them “essentially invulnerable” from public release. Yet the statute’s repeal in June following statewide and national protests on racism and police brutality rendered their release solely under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Powers said.
Only the release of personal information — including addresses and phone numbers that would constitute an invasion of personal privacy — are allowed to be redacted, Powers ruled.
The Schenectady PBA had argued the release of unsubstantiated and unfounded claims would cause embarrassment and lead to safety issues.
Powers said the point is “well-taken,” but there’s “simply no ambiguity, in this court’s view, as to the Legislature’s instructions when responding to FOIL requests.”
And that includes the release of “technical infractions,” albeit with some allowances for redactions, Powers ruled.
“Even despite a risk of ‘over-transparency,’ our state Legislature has spoken loudly towards its stated goal of improving racial discourse, particularly with regards to policing and especially as to policing of minorities and those suffering with mental health disorders,” Powers wrote.
Legal experts have said the ruling is potentially precedent-setting, including the New York State Civil Liberties Union, which joined the lawsuit earlier this fall.
Context emerged for the first time on Tuesday regarding Pommer’s counseling notice, which Powers wrote was issued April 15 in relation to a domestic violence call to which the officer responded on Nov. 10, 2019.
Also included was a “notice of potential charges” related to the officer’s response to social distancing violations at Bumpy’s Polar Freeze earlier this spring, actions for which he was later disciplined and suspended for three days for failing to enforce state safeguards.
Powers’ ruling mops up the few dangling threads remaining from the encounter with Gaindarpersaud on July 6.
Pommer, a seven-year veteran of the department, was formally disciplined for violating two city Police Department policies, including those related to discourtesy and reviewing evidence, and agreed to be suspended for six days without pay and undergo seven days of field training.
Criminal mischief charges against Gaindarpersaud, who was suspected of slashing his neighbor’s tires, were dropped, while a charge of resisting arrest will be dropped if he stays out of trouble for six months.