FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, August 2, 2021
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Releases His Office’s
Disclosure Letters Regarding Police Officers in Brooklyn
Over 10,100 Letters Released Pursuant to Freedom of Information Law;
The Letters, Which List Credibility Findings, are Routinely Provided to
Defense Lawyers, as Constitutionally Required, When Police Officers Serve as Witnesses
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today released all police credibility disclosure letters kept by his Office. These 10,162 “Giglio disclosure letters” were prepared by the Brooklyn DA’s Office to comply with its disclosure obligations to defendants from January 2020 through March 2021 and list information that could show a prior bad act, bias or credibility concerns of a police witness. The database, with required redactions, was provided to WNYC/Gothamist pursuant to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request and is available here.
DA Gonzalez said, “This unprecedented release of disclosure letters should not be viewed as an attack on police officers, who are dedicated to keeping us all safe and work together with my Office in partnership every day. Its goal is to enhance transparency and strengthen trust in the criminal justice system, which relies on police witnesses to make criminal cases and requires the utmost integrity and credibility. These disclosures are required under the law, are being provided to defendants in court and should be part of the public record.”
About two-thirds of the letters include at least one disclosure. A disclosure does not mean that the police officer in question is not credible or should not be testifying; it simply means that the information can potentially be used as impeachment material and is thus constitutionally required to be disclosed.
The information sources for the disclosure letters include: 1) prior NYPD department discipline and internal affairs investigations; 2) Brooklyn DA’s Office investigations;
3) Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) investigations; 4) Judicial adverse credibility findings; 5) Civil lawsuits; 6) Officer interviews; and 7) Other sources that may show a prior bad act, bias, credibility concerns, or motive to fabricate evidence or testimony.
The District Attorney said that the United States Constitution as well as the laws of the State of New York place strict disclosure obligations on prosecutors with respect to impeachment information that might affect witness credibility, based on the Supreme Court case Giglio v. United States and other case law. Starting in 2020, New York State law enhanced its pre-trial discovery rules, demanding broader and faster production of information to the defense. Consequently, the volume and variety of data provided by the New York City Police Department has increased. In June 2020, Civil Rights Law Section 50-a was repealed by the New York Legislature, ending the shield of police disciplinary records from public view (a Federal Court upheld the disclosure of police disciplinary records in February 2021).
To better comply with the changing legal landscape, the Brooklyn DA’s Office put in place a “Giglio Unit” at the end of 2019, which established a centralized system that creates and continuously amends the Office’s disclosure letters. When a FOIL request was made to obtain this data, DA Gonzalez, in an act of transparency, chose not to assert various privileges to shield the information, but to rather disclose the letters, subject to certain legally required redactions.
Redactions were made for many of the letters for the following reasons: 1) Names of persons other than the officer for whom the letter was created; 2) Acts described occurred in the context of an arrest or case that is now sealed; 3) Acts described occurred during a grand jury proceeding; 4) Acts described occurred during a proceeding in Family Court; 5) Allegations where disciplinary proceedings are still pending; and 6) Allegations that were reviewed and found to be unsubstantiated.
It should be noted that the review and redactions of the database was a months-long project, meaning that some of the information in the released records has since changed. The records that are being released represent a “snapshot in time” from March 5, 2021. The District Attorney’s Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau continuously researches its sources for the latest available information to update the records.