A grieving family’s lawsuit against the NYPD over the department’s heel-dragging in turning over information about the death of a cyclist was dismissed today.
When Mathieu Lefevre was killed by a truck while cycling in Williamsburg last October, his family wanted to know what happened.
The NYPD wouldn’t tell them, even after the Lefevres filed a Freedom of Information request, citing an ongoing investigation — though that didn’t prevent the police from leaking to the Wall Street Journal some of the same information they were telling the Lefevres they couldn’t have.
The family appealed the decision, but the ten business days the NYPD had to respond came and went without response. Only after the Lefevre’s sued did they receive notice from the police department that it would begin to turn over parts of the investigation.
The police argued that because the department was finally turning over “each and every record located…. pursuant to a diligent search,” the Lefevre’s lawsuit was moot and should be dismissed.
That wasn’t exactly true, as Judge Peter Moulton notes in today’s ruling: “This statement has been undermined by the NYPD’s supplemental production of items not included in the January 20 production.”
The police at first refused to tell the Lefevres which proprietary software they needed to watch the surveillance videos that showed Mathieu’s death, and it was only the day before the case went to oral arguments that the department turned over relevant audio files from the police response.
Police also wouldn’t turn over the responding officer’s accident memo books until the Lefevres supplied the officer’s shield numbers — an action baffling to Judge Moulton, who wrote, “It is unclear… why the identities of police officers involved in a focused, finite, investigation of a single traffic incident are not readily available.”
But that wasn’t enough for Judge Moulton to rule for the Lefevres.
“While these delays in production were longer than necessary, and were no doubt more than agonizing to the petitioners,” he writes, “the NYPD’s records have now been produced.” Moulton therefore dismissed the case as moot.
It’s a disappointing ruling for the Lefevre’s lawyer, Steve Vaccaro, who argued that the police department’s delays were symptomatic of its reluctance to turn over information to victims families until its threatened with a lawsuit.
“While the courts findings with respect to the NYPD’s unjust delays were accurate and welcome, and provide some solace to the Lefevres, still the ruling vindicates the NYPD’s strategy of stonewalling victim’s families who are trying to get this kind of information,” Vaccaro said today. “There’s no financial incentive for the department to change its ways.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 5, 2012