State Supreme Court Justice denies police, fire unions’ attempt to keep records private

Erie County

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — State Supreme Court Justice Frank Sedita, III, has ruled in favor of the City of Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda after fire and police unions challenged the repeal of 50-a.

From 1976 until this past June, 50-a was in place to prevent the public release of personnel records used to evaluate police officers and firefighters.

Prior to the law’s repeal, those records could only be revealed through a court order, or through the firefighter or police officer’s consent.

Buffalo police Benevolent Association President John Evans responded to Sedita’s ruling with this statement:

“The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association is obviously disappointed by today’s ruling regarding the release of disciplinary records.

Even if an officer is exonerated or the complaint was not sustained, it creates a public perception that the Buffalo Police are not serving and protecting the community in a professional manner, which could not be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, this is another misconception that the police now have to face as a result of public policy decisions being made on emotion rather than based on facts.

As a community we should be having a constructive dialogue about the future of policing in the City of Buffalo and be less concerned about a list of unsubstantiated complaints that occurred in the past.”

John Evans

The assistant director of UB Law School’s Civil Rights and Transparency Clinic, Michael Higgins is pleased that after more than two months, State Supreme Court Justice Frank Sedita has decided that it is within the law of New York State to release the disciplinary records of police officers, even the complaints that are unsubstantiated or still pending.

“It’s in the interest of the police to actually have these records released. They want to show where they’re exonerated for example from a complaint. The public is capable of telling the difference between an unsubstantiated complaint, a substantiated complaint, or an exoneration,” Higgins said.

Before the judge temporarily blocked certain records, News Four was able to obtain data showing that officer Michael Delong has 36 complaints against him, but 22 of those complaints were not sustained. The department was not able to gather enough proof that he was or was not at fault.

You can read Sedita’s official opinion below:

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.

Evan Anstey is a digital content producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here.

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