But last month, the department’s top legal official said in a letter that 50-a precluded the department from fully complying — a position that was abruptly reversed by Commissioner O’Neill, who has framed his department’s use of 50-a as an effort to balance transparency and safety.
“There are people out here that are looking to do police officers harm, and I know you know that,” he said at a council budget hearing. “So, you know, we just don’t sit over in 1 Police Plaza making these decisions without careful consideration.”
Councilman Lancman said in an interview that the shifting position on whether it could comply with the disclosure law showed that the Police Department has “no coherent policy for how 50-a should be interpreted and applied.”
“It really amounts to a game of three-card Monti,” he said.
Officer Pantaleo is not expected face disciplinary charges stemming from the Garner case until the federal inquiry is finished. Charges were recommended by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which has said he should be fired.
Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat, had not heard of 50-a before Mr. Garner was killed. With career prosecutors in the United States Justice Department recommending civil rights charges against Officer Pantaleo, Mr. O’Donnell said it is beyond time for the Legislature to deal with 50-a and has offered bills to narrow or repeal it.
“Until we legislatively fix it,” he said, “it’s going to be the whims of any mayor or police department to do with it what they want.”