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Eric Adams

Eric Adams’s ‘Worst of the Worst’ Report Violated State Law and a Court Injunction

The mayor's press stunt last August that featured that report? It was built on hundreds of violations of the state's sealed arrest law, a judge ruled on Thursday.

Eric Adams presents the “Worst of the Worst” report, later found to violate state law. (Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)

Eric Adams's administration violated state law and a court's preliminary injunction last summer when the NYPD illegally accessed sealed arrest records to help Adams perform a press stunt in which he warned of the threat of repeat offenders, a judge ruled on Thursday.

The ruling comes as part of a long-running lawsuit brought by the Bronx Defenders over the NYPD's decades-long flouting of state laws that restrict access to sealed arrest records. The NYPD has argued at various points along the way that the law that says you can't access arrest records doesn't actually apply to the police, and that in any case, ceasing to violate the law would be extremely complicated and difficult because the police department's vast network of databases are all specifically built to violate the law. But in 2021, the judge presiding over the case found that the NYPD had indeed been chronically violating state law, and ordered the department to stop. 

But last August, the NYPD decided to disregard that order—it compiled arrest statistics, including information on sealed arrests, into a report on repeat arrestees entitled "Notable Recent Worst of the Worst." 

The report was provided to the New York Post, which published a story about it on August 3. The same day, Mayor Adams staged a media event built around its findings, attempting to use those statistics to suggest that bail reform was driving an increase in crime and arguing that judges were being forced to release people who were then arrested again. (That general claim is disproven by official crime statistics, which may be why all ten of the unidentified people the mayor highlighted had actually been eligible to be held on bail, a reality that did not serve the mayor's argument at all.)

Asked at the press conference whether he would identify the repeat arrestees cited in the report, Adams said, "Trust me, I want to. You know, sometimes I don't know why we hire lawyers, you know. They say we can't show the name and faces, so I have to abide by the rules."

Someone in the NYPD or the Adams administration didn't share the same concerns about abiding by the rules, because the next day, the Post published a story citing "sources" who identified one of the people named in the report. 

But even leaving aside the Post leak, the report Adams built his press event around was illegal. To compile the report, the NYPD accessed hundreds of sealed arrest records, each instance a violation of state law. Then it shared the information in the report, also in violation of state law. Then Adams gave a press conference in which he pledged to shop the report to lawmakers in Albany, a threat to further illegally publicize sealed arrests.

A few weeks after the press conference, the Bronx Defenders filed a motion in their ongoing lawsuit to determine whether the report that Adams made so much hay over was, in fact, a violation of the court's injunction and of state law. "This court finds that it was," Judge Lyle Frank ruled on Thursday, dismissing the City's arguments that because the final report didn't have names attached to the arrest profiles, it was all right for the police to have rifled through New Yorkers' sealed arrests. 

After all, to compile the report, Judge Frank wrote, the NYPD had to cull the sealed arrest records of the people highlighted. "It was this conduct that is at the very heart of this Court's preliminary injunction: the apparent routine accessing of sealed records by individuals within the New York City Police Department," he wrote. (Frank declined to issue sanctions for the violation.)

The leaking of sealed arrest records to the press to further the NYPD's agenda is a long-standing concern and one of the reasons the Bronx Defenders brought their lawsuit in the first place, said the group's Niji Jain, the attorney who is litigating the case.

"One of the core problems that this case has been about from day one is the City's pattern and practice of using sealed arrest records to smear people's reputations, and one of the primary ways they do that is through media disclosures," Jain said. "When someone is murdered by the NYPD, they'll try to get ahead of the story by saying, 'This person has such-and-such and so many arrests.' Sometimes they'll even say, 'This many are sealed.'" Jain continued, "The legislature, in passing the sealing statutes, was very clear: Once an arrest is sealed, it should be as if it never existed at all. If the fact of that arrest can go around and haunt someone in life and in death, that's doing obvious violence to the law."

The NYPD told Hell Gate that the department is reviewing the order. The Mayor's Office provided the following statement: “The mayor remains dedicated to ensuring we get violent recidivists who are driving a disproportionate share of crime off our streets. We will take every step within our legal authority to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Updated 3/2/23, 10:24 p.m.): This story has been updated with comment from the Mayor's Office, which was provided at 8:36 p.m., after publication.

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