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Public Advocate to NYPD: So You Broke a Grandmother’s Arm While She Was Trying to Get Paperwork For Her Glucose Monitor?

After Hell Gate’s reporting, Jumaane Williams has some questions for the police.

12:30 PM EDT on May 20, 2022

A handcuffed woman in a winter coat is led through a police precinct door with her mask pulled up over her eyes.

Patricia Rodney was arrested while trying to get a lost-property report. (NYPD body camera footage)

The New York City Public Advocate has written to the NYPD demanding answers, after Hell Gate broke the story of a Brooklyn grandmother who was arrested and had her arm broken by  police officers in the vestibule of a precinct house in late 2020. The police believed Patricia Rodney was filming them, and their actions have set off a civil lawsuit over where and when citizens can film the police.

“After this incident, and as there have been other questions and concerns about impeding New Yorkers’ right to record police, the city and my office need clarity on how the NYPD will meet their obligation and comply with the Right to Record Act moving forward,” Williams wrote in the letter sent Wednesday to NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell and Assistant Deputy Commissioner Oleg Chernyavsky.

Patricia Rodney went to the 62nd Precinct  in Dyker Heights for a police report she needed for her health insurance to cover a new glucose monitor for her diabetes. After initially being told she could get the report at the precinct, Rodney was then told she could not. Police told her to leave, and she refused, saying she needed the paperwork for her medical device. When police began to film her in the vestibule to the precinct, she told them that she was filming them as well. As recorded on the officers’ body-worn cameras, police swarmed her and arrested her. According to a medical report, Rodney suffered a broken arm.

The Public Advocate said he wrote the letter because the episode illustrated two issues he has heard about repeatedly, the lack of access to police reports, and people having their right to record the police retaliated against.

“It was disheartening to see someone not be able to get a report they requested, and then have their arm broken, simply for exercising a right that they have,” Williams told Hell Gate.”We made sure to write the law to keep everyone safe, to make sure law enforcement are not impeded upon when they're doing their job.”

Williams first proposed the Right to Record Act as a member of City Council, and celebrated its passage as Public Advocate when it was finally adopted as a city ordinance in 2020 as part of a raft of police accountability measures passed in the wake of that summer’s protests. The law codifies (as does state law) the right of New Yorkers to record the police, so long as they aren’t interfering with an “official and lawful police function.” It makes no exception for the publicly accessible portions of police precincts, or precinct vestibules like the one where Romney was arrested. Nevertheless, NYPD policy prohibits the public from filming inside precinct houses.

“What policies are in place for police officers to interact with individuals that record near or in police stations when they do not pose a physical threat?” Williams asks the NYPD in his letter, and how do those policies square with the Right to Record Act? Are the provisions of that law incorporated into the signage around police precincts? (If the sign behind Patricia Rodney in the 2020 videos of her arrest is any indication, they do not.) Lastly, Williams wants to know, “How is the New York Police Department training officers to be in compliance with the Right to Record Act?”

Rodney is suing the police over her arrest and injuries. Her lawyer, Remy Green, said Williams’s letter is on the right track. “The Public Advocate is asking the right questions—and the same questions our lawsuit asks: Why does the NYPD think it doesn’t have to follow the law?”

A spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed that the department has received Williams’s letter, and will respond to his questions. While state and local law protect people’s right to film the police, the spokesperson wrote, “the individual must have a legal right to be present at a particular location in order to have the right to record police activity there. Due to the sensitive nature of what occurs inside police stationhouses, law enforcement agencies can limit expressive activities within the confines of a stationhouse in order to uphold the sanctity of investigations, protect witnesses, and allow officers to perform essential functions without interference. Administrative Guide 304-21 prohibits recording inside Department facilities.”

Williams said he’s not persuaded a total ban on filming in precincts is justified.

“I can understand if there's something happening in the police precinct, that is significant to the work they're trying to do, that they may not want filmed,” Williams told Hell Gate. “But I'm not sure this incident would fall into that category.”

Still, Williams said he’s waiting to see how the NYPD responds to his letter.

“If you're saying that this law does not apply inside the precinct, then lawmakers and folks need to understand why, and what we need to adjust to make sure that everybody is safe and can do their job,” he said. “We have to make sure that people can get the services that they need from the department and not have their arms broken.”

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