MINEOLA, N.Y. (CN) – A reporter demands that the Nassau County Police Department fork over documents about Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s alleged attempt to have the police investigate a detective whom O’Reilly believed was having an affair with his wife.
Plaintiff John Cook, an editor and reporter for Gawker, is known for bringing in-depth investigations to a website better known for news aggregating.
Late last year, Cook sued the National Archives and Records Administration for information about how President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney tried to shape public opinion about their time in office.
Now the New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a new complaint on his behalf raising “serious questions about whether the NCPD used public resources for O’Reilly’s private, personal benefit.”
“In this Article 78 petition, John Cook, a journalist, seeks to compel the Nassau County Police Department (‘NCPD’) to disclose records pertaining to his investigation into allegations that NCPD improperly used public resources to conduct an internal investigation at the behest of a prominent news personality, William O’Reilly,” the complaint states. “Petitioner seeks these records for the purpose of reporting on a story ‘about O’Reilly’s attempts to pressure the NCPD into launching an internal affairs investigation into an NCPD detective whom O’Reilly believed to be romantically involved with his wife,’ Petition (Oct. 11, 2011) ¶ 9, a story that ‘raised serious questions about the NCPD and whether it was contracting out its law enforcement capabilities for the private, personal benefit of a prominent broadcaster and potential NCPD Foundation donor.’ Id. ¶ 12.”
NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton said in a statement: “This type of secrecy is unacceptable and incompatible with open government. The public has a right to know how government agencies use taxpayer dollars and that information cannot be shielded merely by labeling records a ‘personnel file.’ If the county will not release this information, we are confident the courts will require it to do so.”
Cook said in the NYCLU statement: “If the Nassau County Police Department rents out its investigative services to run personal romantic errands for local celebrities, the people of Nassau County need to know that. The Freedom of Information Law is the law, and it’s shocking to see a police department take such a cavalier approach to following the law. Law enforcement must take their obligations to the law and the people of New York seriously.”
According to the new complaint, Cook suspects that O’Reilly had regular meetings with now-retired Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey, a personal friend of the television personality.
“Petitioner’s request sought three categories of records: (1) records pertaining to two internal investigations – one regarding the investigation of the unknown detective, purportedly at the behest of Mr. O’Reilly, and the other regarding leaks of information pertaining to that first investigation; (2) records of call logs, schedules of meetings, correspondence, and other contacts between the O’Reilly’s and former NCPD Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey; and (3) records of NCPD contacts with two residential addresses belonging to the O’Reilly’s,” Cook’s attorneys wrote in the 15-page Reply Memorandum of Law in Support of Petitioner’s Verified Article 78 Petition.
The Nassau County Police Department denied Cook’s request, and Cook filed a pro se Article 78 petition on Oct. 11, 2011, challenging the denial.
Nassau police then claimed privacy exemptions from disclosure and sought dismissal. But Cook and the NYCLU say the police’s exemptions, if they exist, do not trump the public’s right to know.
“Respondents plainly have not born their burden of overcoming this strong presumption of openness. The privacy exemption obviously does not apply to the ‘call logs’ or ‘schedules of meetings or visits’ discussed above, as those records merely document the fact of a call or meeting involving a public official and do not contain any ‘information of a personal nature.’ Respondents have not even attempted to establish any factual basis for applying this exemption; the affidavits in support of their motion to dismiss do not even mention call logs or schedules. Nor have Respondents cited any case law to suggest that call logs, schedules, or other daily records of the business of prominent public officials like the Nassau County Police Commissioner should be considered ‘private.’ To the contrary, such a position is antithetical to the open government purposes of FOIL. Many decades ago, the daily calendar of the Mayor of the City of New York was held to be a public record under FOIL. … As a prominent government official, the Commissioner of the Nassau County Police Department is no different,” the complaint states.
Cook wants to see the documents.
The NYCLU was to appear on Cook’s behalf in Nassau County Court this morning.
Cook is represented by Corey Stoughton and Christopher Dunn.