MANHATTAN (CN) - Reporter's privilege does not shield a New York City police officer's account of his forcible institutionalization for taping roll-call meetings discussing ticket quotas, a federal judge ruled.
NYPD whistle-blower Adrian Schoolcraft had started taping his commanders urging the rank-and-file to meet quotas for arrests and stop-and-frisks in 2008, well before a landmark trial over the department's street-stop policies catapulted the issue into mainstream attention.
Schoolcraft shared his tapes with Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman for an investigative series titled "The NYPD Tapes," which Rayman later turned into a book bearing the same title. One of these tapes records Deputy Chief Michael Marino confronting Schoolcraft at his house, labeling him an emotionally disturbed person, and sending him to a psychiatric center in Queens.
National Public Radio broadcast that encounter on an episode of "This American Life."
On Aug. 10, 2010, Schoolcraft filed a federal complaint against New York City, Marino, and several officers and doctors for $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
During the discovery process, city lawyers subpoenaed "any written accounts" and "any documents, emails, text messages, and/or recordings" that Schoolcraft may have shared with Rayman.
U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet found Wednesday that the city cast too wide a net in its requests. "The reporter's privilege protects the press from wholesale discovery of its documents," he wrote. "The privilege protects journalists from a party's 'unfettered access to 'sift through [journalists] files in search of information supporting [his] claims.'"
Still, Sweet ordered the journalist to hand over certain documents sought by name, including a 10-page document that Schoolcraft wrote narrating his stint at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center.
Rayman must also turn over a memorandum by Schoolcraft to his precinct commander alleging police misconduct, and an email to the reporter stating: "Nothing has changed regarding my [suspension] status ... Pay me or fire me ... I'm never quitting ... Never!" (Brackets and punctuation in original.)
The New York City Law Department said it was "pleased that the court ordered Mr. Rayman to provide us with a number of documents that are very important to the litigation and not available elsewhere."
Privilege does, however, shield Schoolcraft's letter firing his former lawyer, crime reports he shared with Rayman, and agreements and contracts with the scribe, the court found.
The Village Voice reported that Rayman's attorney is "pleased" with the ruling.
"The court really rendered a very fair, thoughtful, decision that I think adds strength, ultimately, to the reporter's privilege," lawyer Dave Korzenik told the alt-weekly.