Unions Seize on Ex-Cop’s Academic Flap in Push to Keep NYPD Misconduct Records SecretHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Police, criminal justice
A cop-turned-professor at St. John’s University in Queens has become the legal poster child in police unions’ ongoing effort to keep most records alleging police misconduct from being made public.
University officials recently suspended adjunct history professor Richard Taylor after a student group accused him of racism in his teaching and posted his NYPD civilian complaint history on Instagram.
Unions representing cops from patrol officers to captains, plus firefighters, EMTs and correction officers, are suing to block release of unsubstantiated, unfounded and what they call “non-final” misconduct records. They argue that allowing access would unfairly blight the subjects’ reputations and damage their future job prospects.
City lawyers are fighting to release the records after the state Legislature in June repealed a law, known as 50-a, that barred their disclosure. Judges in the case and the city’s attorneys have repeatedly challenged the unions to produce an example of harm to a cop caused by public disclosure of their complaint history.
For weeks, the unions could produce no cases that fit the bill.
Then about three weeks ago, they discovered Taylor, whose Civilian Complaint Review Board record, plucked from a New York Civil Liberties Union database, includes four incidents between 2005 and 2007 when he was a patrol officer in Greenwich Village. None of the allegations were substantiated.
The unions called his suspension by St. John’s “a warning sign of what is to come,” stating in court papers, “This harassment and the framing of unsubstantiated allegations as ‘misconduct’ by third parties demonstrate the defamatory effect of publicizing these records.”
“This proves again that unproven allegations made public can help destroy even second careers,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesperson for the unions. “Unfounded claims against this former officer were unfairly raised 13 years after retirement. Is this fair? Absolutely not.”
The record shows it’s not quite that simple.
A student’s allegation that one of Taylor’s lessons asked them to “justify slavery” appears to be the primary reason for his ouster. St. John’s, though, has so far refused to detail what evidence it used to suspend Taylor, other than to accuse him of violating the school’s rules against bias.
It’s unclear whether the public display of Taylor’s CCRB history played a role in the university’s decision.
“There’s no evidence in the record that would rule out the possibility that this is about him being a cop,” said Adam Goldstein, senior research counsel at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan group that supports academic freedom and is working with Taylor to get St. John’s to reinstate him.
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