Enforcing Transparency, Preventing Deaths: A Landmark Decision and an Ongoing Campaign

Ruth Lowenkron, J.D.

People with psychiatric disabilities and people of color are at disproportionate risk of lethal encounters with law enforcement. This workshop examines one such encounter, the attempt by police to keep evidence concealed, the subsequent litigation and the finding of a strong public interest in full disclosure of police body camera footage. The ongoing campaign for alternative approaches to mental health crisis response will also be discussed.

In September 2017 foreign exchange student Miguel Richards was killed in his apartment by New York City Police Department officers responding to his landlord's request for a "wellness check." Richards seemed to be experiencing a mental crisis. He was shot sixteen times after a fifteen minute standoff during which he stood silent and motionless, holding a knife and a toy gun. NYPD subsequently released heavily edited footage from some of the officers' body cameras. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, with Milbank LLP as pro bono counsel, sued the NYPD for the complete record under New York's Freedom of Information Law. In June 2019 the court found that the law compelled disclosure and ordered the entire footage released (excepting minimal redactions agreed to by NYLPI).

This workshop will be presented by Ruth Lowenkron, Director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who will discuss the case, its impact, and the trend of deadly responses by law enforcement to disturbed and disabled people in crisis. NYLPI is part of the Campaign to Reform New York City’s Responses to Mental Health Crises.