Six months to the day after Mathieu Lefevre was killed by a truck driver who ran over his bicycle in an East Williamsburg intersection, his family’s lawsuit against the NYPD will be argued in New York Supreme Court this afternoon.
Judge Peter Moulton has denied a motion to allow Lefevre’s mother, Erika, to testify, so today’s hearing will consist only of lawyers’ oral arguments.
Lefevre’s family isn’t suing the police department over how it conducted the investigation, though there’s reason to believe that that, as in the case of many bicycle fatalities, the NYPD was so quick to exonerate the motorist that it neglected to collect critical evidence.
Rather, the suit is over the department’s refusal to tell Lefevre’s family much of anything about what happened, even after the Lefevres filed a Freedom of Information request to see what the police had learned. Frustrated at learning that the NYPD was saying more about the investigation to the truck-driver who ran over her son, Erika Lefevre finally hired a lawyer and filed the Freedom of Information request in November. But she still got nothing, and after months of waiting she finally decided to sue.
Once the lawsuit was filed, the department did finally begin to release the information in dribs and drabs. But the Lefevres argue — as does an amicus brief from City Councilman Brad Lander — that the NYPD shouldn’t be able to break the law, withholding key information from grieving families, and then avoid the legal consequences with an eleventh-hour document dump after those families finally file suit.
Other cases suggest that if the Lefevres hadn’t taken the NYPD to court, they might still be waiting for shreds of information about the investigation of his death. The bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives filed Freedom of Information requests regarding the investigations of six separate bicycle fatalities in August of last year. Eight months later, they’re still waiting.
Against this pattern of secrecy, the Lefevre case being argued today has the potential to serve as important impact litigation that might force the NYPD to change its ways. But Vacarro doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“Well,” he said yesterday, “We’ll have to see what sort of impact we have tomorrow, first.”
Check back in for our reporting on this afternoon’s proceedings.
UPDATE: Here’s our report on the oral arguments.