On December 28, 2021, a New York City judge dealt a blow to newly elected Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, by denying his request to block a subpoena from the New York Police Department. This decision is the latest development in a contentious battle between the NYPD and the DA’s office over access to police records.
The subpoena in question was issued by the NYPD’s Legal Bureau and seeks access to documents related to a specific case that the DA’s office is currently investigating. The NYPD has argued that these records are crucial to its own investigation and that the DA’s office has been uncooperative in sharing them. The DA has countered that the records are subject to grand jury secrecy rules and cannot be released without a court order.
The case at the center of this dispute involves a man who was arrested in April 2021 on charges of possessing a firearm. The man’s defense attorney has since alleged that the arresting officers fabricated evidence against his client and that the case should be dismissed. The DA’s office is currently investigating these claims.
In his ruling, Judge Richard Tsai rejected the DA’s argument that the subpoena violated grand jury secrecy rules. He noted that the records in question had already been shared with the defense and were therefore not subject to grand jury protection. He also criticized the DA’s office for refusing to cooperate with the NYPD, stating that “The parties should be working together on this.”
The decision is a significant setback for Bragg, who was elected in November 2021 on a platform of progressive reform and greater accountability for police misconduct. Bragg has promised to overhaul the DA’s office, including reforms to the use of grand juries and a greater emphasis on reducing the number of people sent to prison.
The NYPD has been a persistent obstacle to these efforts, with Commissioner Dermot Shea publicly criticizing Bragg’s reforms as “misguided” and “dangerous.” The department has also resisted efforts to increase civilian oversight and reform disciplinary procedures for officers accused of misconduct.
The battle over police records is part of a wider conflict between police and prosecutors over the issue of transparency and accountability. In recent years, police officers accused of misconduct have been shielded from accountability by powerful police unions and by a culture of secrecy within police departments. Prosecutors have also been criticized for their role in perpetuating this culture, with some accused of being too cozy with law enforcement and too reluctant to hold police officers accountable for their actions.
This conflict has come to a head in recent months as prosecutors across the country have sought access to police records and other evidence in cases where officers are accused of misconduct. In some cases, police departments have resisted these efforts, citing concerns about privacy and confidentiality.
The dispute between the NYPD and the Manhattan DA’s office is just one example of this broader conflict. The decision by Judge Tsai is likely to be appealed, and it remains to be seen how this dispute will ultimately be resolved. However, it is clear that the issue of police accountability will remain a contentious one for the foreseeable future.