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The NYPD Blamed a ‘Gag Order’ for Skipping a City Council Hearing. There Is No Gag Order

"The NYPD is lying—and frankly, not even doing a particularly good job at it."

NYPD SUV

(Gianandrea Villa / Unsplash)

On Wednesday, after the NYPD refused to show up to a City Council oversight hearing to discuss its Strategic Response Group, the department sent a statement elaborating on their absence.

"The NYPD is actively engaged in litigation and negotiations that touch directly on the SRG and the court has issued a gag order directing confidentiality in the matter," an NYPD spokesperson told Hell Gate after the hearing was over.

But according to the plaintiffs' attorneys who are working on that very litigation, there has been no "gag order" issued in these cases.

"There is no gag order," attorney Remy Green told Hell Gate. "The NYPD is lying—and frankly, not even doing a particularly good job at it."

The office of Attorney General Letitia James, which is also part of the consolidated cases that involve the NYPD's conduct during the 2020 protests, confirmed that no such gag order exists.

Hell Gate has reached out to the City's Law Department, the NYPD, and the Mayor's Office to inquire if a gag order exists; none of them have responded to our requests for comment. We have also reached out to the City Council and its Public Safety Committee chair, Kamillah Hanks, and will update if they respond.

"The NYPD is using settlement negotiations as a smokescreen for answering questions from their oversight body about widespread abuse," said NYCLU deputy legal director Molly Biklen. NYCLU, along with the Legal Aid Society, are suing the City in an effort to disband the SRG and reallocate its resources to social service ocial programs. "New Yorkers are still waiting for the SRG to answer for their conduct," Biklen added.

One group of plaintiffs' attorneys who are representing photojournalists in their 2020 protest suits against the NYPD, filed a letter to the federal judge overseeing their case on Wednesday.

The letter, signed by attorney Wylie Stecklow, features our tweet of the NYPD's statement, and "respectfully request[s] that the City of New York identify the supposed 'Gag Order' it referenced in responding to media inquiries concerning the NYPD’s failure to testify publicly at a City Council Hearing on March 1, 2023, or for the Court to clarify that no such 'Gag Order' exists on any of these consolidated dockets."

"The need for this public testimony by the NYPD is consistent with the famous quote from Justice Brandeis," the letter reads, before sharing the quote: "'Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.'"

[UPDATE / 5:52 p.m.] Asked to point to a "gag order," and asked to comment on the plaintiffs attorneys pointing out that no "gag order" exists, an NYPD spokesperson sent this statement: "The court appointed a court mediator to oversee settlement negotiations. The court’s rules require all parties to such mediations to sign confidentiality agreements."

Green, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, posted a copy of the standard confidentiality agreement in the cases to Twitter, and noted that it only applies to communications and information exchanged "exclusively during or for the mediation process." That language would seemingly not prevent the NYPD from speaking about the SRG's mission, tactics, or really anything not related to the negotiations themselves.

"The NYPD never conveyed to the Council before the hearing that they were under a gag order," a council spokesperson told Hell Gate in a statement. "We would love to see such a gag order."

Nick Pinto contributed reporting for this story.

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