When Mathieu Lefevre was thrown from his bicycle and killed by a truck in Brooklyn last October, his case became Exhibit A for cycling advocates who have argued for years that bicyclists killed on the streets of New York almost never get justice from the police.
That complaint is finally reaching policy-makers. Lefevre’s mother was one of many who testified at a City Council hearing on the issue last month. But from the beginning, the Lefevre family’s quest has been about something even more fundamental than fair treatment of cyclists. They just want some basic transparency from the NYPD.
It’s the police’s failure to provide complete and accurate information about its investigation to Lefevre’s family — even after served with a Freedom of Information request — that is behind the family’s lawsuit against the city.
In particular, the Lefevres were concerned that although the NYPD had apparently been collecting photographs of the Mathieu’s family members, there were no photographs of the crash scene in the file police turned over. In fact, an official accident report suggested that the camera brought to the scene that night wasn’t working.
Now it turns out there were pictures after all — at least 48 of them. The police just didn’t turn them over.
There’s also the issue of the surveillance camera footage of the accident that the police provided to the Lefevres. The family couldn’t get the video to play properly — it showed only a series of still images separated by about six seconds. Bafflingly, those images didn’t match the detective’s official description of what the videos showed. The Lefevres repeatedly asked for clarification and help with the video, but city lawyers were no help.
Only in late February — after Erika Lefevre’s testimony before City Council had publicly highlighted the city’s uncooperativeness, that the NYPD provided the pictures from the crime scene and told the family that a special video codec was required to properly view the surveillance footage.
Despite all this, the city is arguing that the Lefevre’s lawsuit should be dismissed. The Lefevre’s lawyer, Steve Vaccaro, says the court needs to settle the question at hand:
“Was the NYPD justified in withholding this information as long as they did?”
The Lefevres say the answer is no. For one thing, they argue, there are still documents the NYPD hasn’t turned over, including the memo books officers investigating a crash are required by law to keep. But even if the police were to provide those documents tomorrow, there’s still the question of whether the police can withhold information, then finally cough it up when there’s
“There’s a term: ‘capable of repetition and yet evading review,’ that applies here,” Vaccaro said. “If the NYPD can withhold information and then just do a document dump right before any lawsuit comes to head, they’re never held to account for violating the law.”
Arguments in the case are scheduled for April 5.