NYPD Surveillance of Black Lives Matter Protests
As first reported in The Appeal, then in Metro NY, Wall Street Journal, New York Post, CNN, BBC Radio, and other media, M.J. Williams Law obtained copies of nearly 700 emails sent by the New York City Police Department via a client's Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") request. The records expose a large-scale NYPD operation to surveil Black Lives Matter protesters in New York City.
The emails date from late November 2014 to January 2015, when there were protests nearly daily in New York City in response to the decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown, Jr. and Eric Garner. The release of these emails resulted from two appeals by M.J. Williams Law after NYPD initially refused the FOIL request. The request itself was a follow-up to the disclosure of 75 similar communications, won in March 2017 and July 2018, in a hard-fought FOIL case against NYPD, also handled by M.J. Williams Law, that was itself the subject significant media attention about NYPD’s use of undercover officers to surveil these protests.
The new FOIL release reveals a much larger, citywide operation that involved civilian informants. According to the NYPD and the disclosed emails, NYPD deployed multiple teams of NYPD undercover officers (including from its Organized Crime Control Bureau or OCCB), NYPD “handlers,” and civilian sources or informants to surveil the protests and protesters.
Reports from the emails were used to brief then-Commissioner William Bratton, and some of NYPD’s highest-ranking Intelligence executives appear to have directly overseen the operation. Remarkably, on certain emails NYPD did not redact the names of Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati; Deputy Chief Matthew Whelan and Inspector William Viscardi, both Commanding Officers of the Intelligence Bureau’s Criminal Intelligence Section; now-retired Deputy Inspector Roberto Rios, also with the Intelligence Bureau’s Criminal Intelligence Section, among others.
The emails were a means for NYPD to receive reports and photographs from its undercover officers and civilian sources, to provide information to its operatives at the protests, and to allow the NYPD officers on the ground to communicate among themselves.
In addition to the information collected by undercover officers and NYPD's sources and informants, the release reveals that NYPD was concurrently surveilling social media accounts and was potentially intercepting and/or interfering with protesters' text messaging and radio communications.
The NYPD surveillance operation took particular interest in uniformed cop watchers, present to record NYPD's policing of the protests. NYPD's interest in cop watchers, and in the protests themselves, appears to be motivated by NYPD's animosity towards community defense to state violence and organized activity critical of policing generally and specifically of NYPD.
The full release is available below for viewing, printing, and downloading. (On a mobile devices, click the image to access the .pdf viewer.) Attachments to the emails appear in the right column. Full-sized copies of the attachments are available on request. The underlying FOIL request, FOIL appeals, and NYPD responses are available here. If you have any questions concerning this Freedom of Information Law release, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Release date: January 17, 2019