Mathieu Lefevre was hardly the first cyclist killed on the streets of New York City, nor was the driver who ran him over the first to get a pass from the NYPD. Lefevre’s family members weren’t the first ones to be stonewalled as they tried to get details on how the police investigate fatal bike crashes.
But Lefevre’s case is increasingly becoming a watershed moment in the long struggle of bicycle safety advocates to change how the police approach bicycle safety. The Lefevre family’s lawsuit against the police department has already drawn media attention and prompted a City Council hearing. Now, an amicus brief from City Councilor Brad Lander and the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives is turning up the heat even more.
Lander and Transportation Alternatives don’t pull their punches in the brief filed last night. They observe that the NYPD’s argument for withholding information is based on cases in which criminals filed Freedom of Information requests to learn how much the cops knew about them.
“The effect of NYPD’s approach is to treat crime victims as if they were criminals themselves,” they write.
They also note the hypocrisy of the NYPD claiming it’s protecting the integrity of its investigation when it’s already told the press that it was the cyclist, not the driver who was to blame:
“NYPD cannot have it both ways. It cannot publicly exonerate the drivers of criminal charges in the first week of an investigation, leak incorrect information blaming the victim… and then refuse to provide further reliable information to victims’ families for months on the ground that disclosure would interfere with a ‘potential’ criminal investigation.”
The brief also notes that the Lefevres aren’t the only ones thwarted in trying to get basic information about bike accidents in New York. Transportation Alternatives has been waiting since August for a meaningful response to its Freedom of Information request for the investigative records of six other deadly bike crashes.
The same basic principles of transparency and disclosure apply in both cases, but Lander and Transportation alternatives clearly recognize that while stonewalling an advocacy group is indefensible, the optics of stiff-arming a grieving mother are in another league entirely.
“To deny victim’s families [the benefits of the Freedom of Information Law] is not only meritless as a legal matter, but also heartless.”
The question of whether to accept the NYPD’s arguments and throw out the Lefevres’s case will be argued in New York Supreme Court April 5th.
Here’s the brief: