NY Appeals Court Tosses Ruling on RNC Surveillance

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Associated Press

NY Appeals Court Tosses Ruling on RNC Surveillance

by
Tom Hays

Police officers arrest a protester outside 2004 Republican National Convention. More than 1,800 people were arrested at the four-day convention at Madison Square Garden, where President Bush accepted his party's nomination for a second term in office. (AP)

NEW YORK — A court overstepped its authority by trying to force the
New York Police Department to release of hundreds of pages of documents
about its infiltration of protest groups before the 2004 Republican
National Convention, an appeals court found Wednesday.

The 2nd
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan reversed the district
court's ruling that ordered the nation's largest police department to
turn over secret "field reports" to protesters who sued the city over
their arrests.

The ruling said that the city "met its burden of
showing that law enforcement privilege applies to field reports — even
as redacted by the district court — because the reports contain
detailed information about the NYPD's undercover law enforcement
techniques and procedures."

Before the convention, members of the
NYPD's Intelligence Division went undercover and infiltrated protest
groups that wanted to disrupt the convention. Information in the
undisclosed documents "reinforces the city's assertions that the public
faced a substantial threat of disruption and violence during the RNC,"
the appeals court wrote.

In a statement, city lawyer Celeste
Koeleveld said the court agreed that the plaintiffs "have no compelling
need for these sensitive materials."

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne also praised the decision.

"The
court recognized that protecting their identities and methods of
operations is important to the public interest and crucial to
undercovers' safety and effectiveness," Browne said.

An attorney
for the New York Civil Liberties Union — which filed the lawsuit
accusing the police of violating the protesters' civil rights — said
the case would go forward.

"The police documents remaining in the
case are the 600 pages already produced to us, and nothing in those
reports begins to justify the NYPD's mass arrest, prolonged detention,
and blanket fingerprinting of law-abiding protesters and bystanders
during the Convention," the lawyer, Chris Dunn, said in a statement.

In
a 2007 decision later upheld by a district judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge
James C. Francis had said the field reports could be released in
redacted form to hide the identities of undercover officers and
confidential tactics.

"Information is not privileged simply
because it was obtained as a result of an undercover investigation," he
wrote. "Information is privileged only when its disclosure would
interfere with legitimate law enforcement interests."

More than
1,800 people were arrested at the four-day convention at Madison Square
Garden, where President Bush accepted his party's nomination for a
second term in office.

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