Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP is serving as pro bono counsel to non-profit civil rights group New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) in a lawsuit filed jointly against the New York Police Department (NYPD) over access to body-worn camera (BWC) footage from the fatal shooting of Miguel Richards, a college exchange student who was shot by NYPD officers sixteen times while experiencing a mental health crisis.
The Article 78 proceeding filed with the Supreme Court of New York, New York County on Thursday, July 19, asserts the right of NYPLI and the public to the unredacted police BWC footage of the September 6, 2017 fatal encounter. On that day, NYPD officers conducting a wellness check on Mr. Richards found him standing by a wall at the foot of his bed holding what officers suspected was a weapon but turned out to be a toy gun. Following a 15-minute standoff during which Mr. Richards stood completely still and did not utter a single word, Mr. Richards was eventually shot in a hail of bullets after an officer with a taser stun gun entered the bedroom and Mr. Richards appeared to raise his arm.
The incident was the first fatal shooting involving NYPD officers captured on body cameras since the NYPD's court-ordered BWC pilot program began in April 2017. On September 14, 2017, police released an incomplete compilation of footage from four of the eight officers equipped with BWCs and present during the shooting, which did not include footage from all of the officers' BWCs or footage from the aftermath of the shooting.
NYLPI filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request the following day for unedited video from the BWCs worn by all the officers involved in the fatal incident. The NYPD initially denied the request, citing interference with a law enforcement investigation, and later responded with heavily redacted copies of the BWC footage from eight officers that blurred and muted several minutes of footage, citing a series of exemptions to FOIL.
With the assistance of Milbank, NYLPI filed the Article 78 petition seeking to compel the NYPD to comply with its statutory mandate under FOIL and asking the New York Supreme Court to direct the NYPD to provide unedited BWC footage of the incident. The petition argues that the NYPD has not articulated a sufficient basis for its redactions to requested body camera footage and cannot establish that any FOIL exemptions apply to the requested footage.
The Milbank team included Litigation partner Jed Schwartz with associates Benjamin Reed and Marion Burke.
"The New York Freedom of Information Law and the NYPD's police body camera program both emphasize transparency and accountability to the public, which is put at risk when camera footage of a fatal incident involving an individual experiencing a mental health crisis is shielded," said Mr. Reed. "We are bringing this Article 78 proceeding before the Supreme Court of New York to protect the rights of persons with disabilities and the integrity of FOIL. Access to full, unedited footage of this tragic incident is imperative, and a lot can be learned from the footage to prevent similar outcomes in the future."
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