Judge Orders Release of Files on NYPD Surveillance of RNC

 
The city must release hundreds of pages of documents related to police surveillance of protesters prior to the 2004 Republican National Convention, though authorities will be allowed to black out some of the information, a judge ruled Monday.

Judge orders release of files on NYPD surveillance of protesters

By LARRY NEUMEISTER | Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK - The city must release hundreds of pages of documents related to police surveillance of protesters prior to the 2004 Republican National Convention, though authorities will be allowed to black out some of the information, a judge ruled Monday.

The city had sought to keep secret field intelligence reports prepared by undercover police officers, but the ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV called for the city to turn over those and other documents to lawyers representing hundreds of protesters challenging their arrests.

For the most part, Francis rejected city arguments that the documents were not relevant and were protected by law enforcement privilege. He did, however, say some documents and information were not pertinent and could be withheld or redacted.

Among documents Francis ordered released were so-called field intelligence reports prepared by undercover police officers, which the city had sought to keep secret.

The magistrate judge said they could be released in redacted form to hide the identities of undercover officers and confidential police tactics and strategies.

"Information is not privileged simply because it was obtained as a result of an undercover investigation," he wrote. "Information is privileged only when its disclosure would interfere with legitimate law enforcement interests."

Francis said some documents do not have to be turned over because the majority of information in them is not related to the convention or because they contain information the plaintiffs have said they do not seek.

More than 1,800 people were arrested at the four-day convention at Madison Square Garden, where President Bush accepted his party's nomination for a second term in office.

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of some of those detained, saying the arrests violated the protesters' civil rights.

Court documents have shown that arrested protesters were held before their initial court appearances for up to six times longer than those arrested on charges unrelated to the convention.

The NYCLU argues the delays were a deliberate policy decision to keep protesters off the streets. The police contend the delays were few and were caused by a high number of arrests in a short amount of time.

Although both sides agreed that some documents could remain secret, the NYCLU challenged the secrecy of others.

A message left with the city law office for comment was not immediately returned.

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director at the NYCLU, said the documents ordered released Monday go to the heart of the case.

"We believe that these documents will disprove the NYPD's claim that demonstrators planned to engage in violence," he said. "We believe these documents will reveal not only the vast scope of the NYPD's political surveillance operation but also that there was no need for the Police Department's harsh treatment of protesters."

Dunn said he expected the NYCLU would receive some of the documents within 10 days unless the city appealed.

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