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NYPD subpoenaed phone records of NYC reporter in search find department leaks: attorney

2020-07-19

The NYPD subpoenaed the phone records of a New York reporter in its hunt to plug the department’s media leaks during the arrest of actor Cuba Gooding Jr. last year, a letter shared with the Daily News claims.

After allegedly acquiring the records of a freelance Daily Mail reporter, NYPD Internal Affairs officers brought in an NYPD cop whose number was found in them. They then questioned the cop July 6 “under threat of suspension” to see if he knew anything about a leaked mug shot of actor Cuba Gooding Jr. when he was arrested on sexual abuse and forcible touching charges last summer.

The News is not releasing the name of the reporter or the cop involved since neither have been accused of any wrongdoing.

An NYPD official said the subpoena was issued before the department changed its rules about acquiring phone and social media records of journalists earlier the year. The department changed its rules in February after it was reported the department tried to subpoena the Twitter records of a New York Post bureau chief.

NYPD investigators believed another NYPD officer leaked the mugshot to the Daily Mail reporter, sources with knowledge of the case said. The mugshot was ultimately shared with a number of media outlets that also ran the photo.

Mugshots are not usually released by the department, especially after an arrest.

Lawyer Eric Sanders, who represented the officer questioned, fired off a letter to Kapil Longani, general counsel for Mayor de Blasio, demanding to know the legal basis for interviewing his client, and the legality of acquiring a reporter’s phone records in the first place.

“Prior to commencing the interview, the investigators’ already acknowledged (my client) was a witness, but it was clear throughout the more than 30 minute interview, that he was a ‘witness’ to nothing other than a ‘fishing expedition’ and violation of his civil rights as well as other violations of law,” Sanders’ letter states.

When questioning the officer, IAB investigators provided the cop with “personal cellular telephone records” of the Daily Mail reporter, Sanders claimed.

“More shockingly, although (the freelance reporter) IS NOT an employee of the Police Department, the department with its limited legal authority under the guise of (its subpoena powers) subpoenaed his personal cellular telephone and who knows what other business records of his,” Sanders wrote. “Therefore (my client) expects a formal written response regarding his complaint regarding the legal basis for interviewing him and the (department’s) unlawful practice of abusing its limited legal authority (regarding subpoenas) to violate the civil rights and other legal rights of its employees, other individuals and businesses.”

Sanders, a former cop who represents dozens of NYPD officers on department disciplinary matters, said police brass have reached a new low by dragging in a cop for questioning because his number showed up in a reporter’s phone records.

“They’re out of control with these baseless investigations and unlawful BS subpoena power,” Sanders said.

An email to City Hall regarding Sanders’ letter were not immediately returned Friday.

In February, the NYPD was accused of subpoenaing New York Post police bureau chief Tina Moore’s Twitter data in hope of finding out where she acquired crime scene photos.

The police department’s lawyer cited the anti-terrorism Patriot Act in demanding Twitter turn over information connected to Moore’s account from Oct. 9-14.

At the time, the NYPD said they were “conducting an investigation to identify the person who leaked crime scene photos,” and said the Post bureau chief “was never the focus of our investigation.”

The department pulled back its subpoena when news of it became public. At the same time the department changed its rules so the department could not go to court to get a reporter’s phone or social media information without the Police Commissioner’s consent.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said at the time it was wrong to try to get Moore’s Twitter data, admitting “mistakes were made.”

“There were certainly other avenues we can take,” he said. “I think we were wrong.”

Word of this new allegation comes as the department announced an upcoming public hearing to discuss changing rules that would make it easier for the NYPD to suspend or revoke someone’s press credentials.

The hearing is slated for Aug. 18.