NYCLU Wants to Know if County Used|Taxpayer Money to Cover Up Prison Abuse

     (CN)- Erie County refused to release information on whether it used taxpayer money to cover up abuses at two state correctional facilities, the New York Civil Liberties Union claims in Erie County Supreme Court.

     Last October, the NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Law request for data on county funds spent “to defend against formal investigations and legal actions” related to two correctional facilities: Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility.
     “In recent years, the county has aggressively resisted investigations and subsequent legal challenges” regarding “unconstitutional and inhumane conditions” at the facilities, a NYCLU spokesperson said.
     Erie County denied the request in January 2010, claiming among other things that the NYCLU did not fully describe the requested records and some of the records would be privacy violations or were protected by attorney-client privilege.
     In its lawsuit, the NYCLU says the county failed to specify why it denied the information and did not explain how the requests were inadequate. In February the county denied the union’s administrative appeal.
     “The county’s decision to withhold this information violates core democratic principles of open government,” said NYCLU Western Regional Office Director John Curr. “The public has the right to know about the fiscal consequences of county officials’ decision to block state and federal efforts to expose and correct inhumane conditions in the county’s correctional facilities.”
     The lawsuit emerges from a 2007 Justice Department query into reports of inmate suicides and use of excessive force at the two facilities. In 2008 county officials barred federal investigators from touring the facilities without a county attorney, and the Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit against Erie County.
     The county responded by hiring a private law firm to handle the defense, allegedly paying the firm $425 an hour.
     The NYCLU wants the court to force the county to produce the requested documents.
     “County officials cannot keep this information secret,” said lead counsel Corey Stoughton for the NYCLU.
     “If the county is unwilling to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Law, then we are confident the courts will require them to do so.”

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