Huge Class Certified in Case Against NYPD Sets Up Mass Reforms to Surveillance Databases

Huge Class Certified in Case Against NYPD Sets Up Mass Reforms to Surveillance Databases 

Decision Means That NYPD will have to turn over information on how it uses millions of sealed arrest records


September 5, 2019 

NEW YORK – A judge today certified a class in a lawsuit brought by The Bronx Defenders and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP against the NYPD over their use of sealed arrest records. The class covers  anyone whose sealed arrest information is in NYPD possession. The decision means that the plaintiffs in the case – R.C. v. The City of New York – are entitled to vast discovery of the NYPD surveillance databases and that victory in the case will necessitate over-arching reforms of NYPD databases and practices. 

“This is a class of at least tens of thousands, likely hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of people whose sealed records were collected over the years and had their rights potentially violated because of the NYPD’s rampant and illegal use of sealed records,” said Jenn Rolnick Borchetta, Managing Director of the Impact Litigation Practice at The Bronx Defenders. “The writing is already on the wall: The NYPD needs to start draining its databases of sealed arrest information and revamping its surveillance machine so that people who have already faced the bar of justice and won are not forever treated as criminals.”

Filed in April 2018, R.C. v. The City of New York challenges NYPD practices that subject anyone who has been arrested to stigma, surveillance, and harsher punishment even if the arrest was thrown out in court. New York law strictly limits when police can use or disclose information from arrests that do not end in criminal convictions. Information from these arrests must be sealed, and mugshots and fingerprints collected during the arrest must be either destroyed or returned to the person accused. Instead of complying with these requirements, the NYPD makes sensitive information relating to sealed arrests available both to officers across the department and to others including outside agencies and the media. 

In May, a judge ruled against the NYPD’s motion to dismiss, asserting that the plain language of New York law prohibits the NYPD from using sealed arrest information in its possession for law enforcement purposes without first obtaining a court order.

The harm from the practice of using sealed records is not theoretical, as the lawsuit makes clear. One of the plaintiffs in the case, identified pseudonymously as R.C., was charged with robbery because NYPD officers created a photo lineup using a photo from a years-old dismissed arrest. The robbery occurred in the Bronx at a time when the plaintiff was in a different state. Yet he was forced to spend a year and a half fighting the charges, all due to a photo that the NYPD was required by law to have destroyed or returned years earlier. During this extremely stressful time, R.C. had to appear in court more than 10 times and lost his job due to repeated work absences. He became depressed and demoralized, and eventually gave up on his plans to attend college. 

The arrest records at issue in the lawsuit can contain sensitive information including names, photographs, addresses, arrest charges, Social Security numbers, fingerprints, and contact information for the person arrested, as well as information about that person’s relatives and acquaintances. Each of the named plaintiffs in the case had prior charges that were disproven or dismissed, and police violated the law by continuing to use those arrests even though the law required the information be sealed. 

The decision can be found here:

For more information about the lawsuit, click here: