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SPJ joins amicus brief in NYPD public records case


Oct. 13, 2015

Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President, 804-873-1893, pfletcher.spj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in a case involving the public records request of ProPublica journalist Michael Grabell, who is seeking records from the New York City Police Department about the department’s purchase and use of a controversial police vehicle known as the Z Backscatter Van.

The van is an unmarked vehicle that uses an x-ray device to detect drugs or bomb-making equipment inside buildings or other vehicles. It emits high levels of radiation and also raises privacy concerns.

The NYPD denied Grabell’s entire request, asserting that any disclosure would jeopardize criminal investigations. In December 2014, in Grabell v. New York City Police Dep’t, a New York trial court rejected the NYPD’s argument and ordered the department to produce records about the van. The department is now appealing that order.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is submitting an amicus brief to the appellate court, urging the court to affirm the trial court’s decision.

“SPJ is joining this amicus brief for two reasons: First, there is already a large amount of reporting and other information that is widely available about backscatter vans, invalidating the NYPD’s argument that absolute secrecy is necessary,” said SPJ National President Paul Fletcher. “Second, it describes the pivotal role that the New York Freedom of Information Law plays in allowing the press to report on issues of public concern, including the serious health risks posed by the backscatter x-ray technology.”

The First Amendment guarantees the press and the public a right of access to criminal trials, including pretrial proceedings, and documents submitted in connection with them. In its role as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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