Civil rights group sues NYPD for records of Mayor Adams’ involuntary removal plan

(GOTHAMIST) Chau Lam, March 17, 2023

The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the NYPD and its police commissioner to get its hands on public records that would shed light on Mayor Eric Adams’ directive to involuntarily transport people suspected of having mental illness to hospitals for psychiatric evaluations.

The civil rights organization filed the lawsuit on Friday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan after failing to get the information out of the NYPD via a freedom of information request filed in December.

The group is asking a judge to force the police department and Commissioner Keechant Sewell to turn over training materials, policies, protocols and other critical records relating to the mayor’s mental health involuntary removal plan.

Beth Haroules, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU and director of Disability Justice Litigation, said the police department has also been blowing off the City Council, the public advocate and others who want to know how officers are carrying out Adams’ plan.

“So, there are a lot of different avenues trying to get the city to just release what is, by law, publicly available information about an initiative that really fundamentally could be an assault on core rights of New Yorkers who happen to be poor, who happen to have no house, who happen to have a mental illness for which services, as we know, are generally not available,” Haroules said.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office responded to requests for comment with a statement: “For too long, society has ignored New Yorkers in need of connection to care. The city’s compassionate plan will provide New Yorkers with serious mental illness the support they need and help them stabilize their lives. We will review the case.”

The NYPD declined to comment on the pending litigation, according a department spokesperson.

Adams, who has made clearing homeless encampments a priority since taking office, announced the involuntary removal initiative in November. Under the directive, police officers are empowered to forcibly remove people they deem are not meeting their “basic needs” from the streets and other public spaces and transport them to hospitals for psychiatric evaluation.

In the nearly four months since the mayor made his announcement, the city has released very limited information about the program.

In the lawsuit, NYCLU alleges that the police department and Sewell are violating the state’s Freedom of Information Law by denying the group access to details about Adams’ plan.

The civil rights group submitted a FOIL request to the NYPD on Dec. 13, asking the department to produce the public records. The NYPD said the department would respond by May, according to the lawsuit.

“They didn’t promise to produce documents on May 1 and they also didn’t indicate if they were planning to produce documents on May 1,” Haroules said in an interview.

The lawsuit alleges that the police department improperly denied the NYCLU’s rights to access public records.

“The NYPD’s five-month response time is plainly unreasonable,” the lawsuit says.

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