NYPD Rejects Request for Fatal Crash Report as “Unwarranted Invasion” of Driver’s Privacy
The mayor's Vision Zero initiative hasn't changed NYPD's practice of keeping crash reports under lock and key, away from public scrutiny.
NYPD has rejected a freedom of information request for records on the Staten Island collision that killed 15-year-old Jenna Daniels three years ago. Nearly six months after Streetsblog submitted the request, the department denied it on the grounds that releasing the crash report would violate the driver’s privacy.
A man in a pickup truck — identified by the Staten Island Advance as Jason R. Hills, then 38 — hit Daniels on the afternoon of November 15, 2014, as he made a left turn from Hylan Boulevard onto Bayview Avenue in Prince’s Bay.
NYPD immediately blamed the victim, saying Daniels was “outside the crosswalk … with headphones in her ears,” and that Hills “had the right of way.” There is no law against walking while using headphones, and Daniels’ position relative to the crosswalk would be irrelevant in determining fault, since Section 4-04(c)(3) of the city’s traffic rules allows mid-block crossings on Bayview Avenue and other streets that don’t have a traffic signal at both ends.
Hills was driving a black Ford F-150 with an elevated chassis, oversized wheels and tires, tinted windows, a blacked-out grille and front bumper, and tinted headlights. NYPD ticketed Hills for window tint, but the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad report said it “did not contribute to the crash,” according to the Advance.
In March 2015, NYPD cited Hills for failure to exercise due care. But the department continued to publicly disparage the victim, saying Daniels “was outside of the crosswalk when she was hit and therefore contributed to the collision” — though, again, according to city law, she was crossing legally.
Last February, Streetsblog filed a freedom of information request for files related to the crash, including the CIS report, which is the official police account of the collision. After months of silence, in late July NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected the request on the grounds that allowing the public to see those documents would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
NYPD could have redacted details, like contact information, that the department considers too sensitive to release. Instead police chose to deny the request altogether.
Hiding information on traffic crash investigations is a longstanding practice at NYPD that has not improved since the city launched its Vision Zero street safety initiative in 2014. While impugning deceased crash victims is standard operating procedure at the department, it’s nearly impossible to extract information pertaining to motorists’ actions and other factors that contribute to fatal collisions.
Streetsblog will appeal the decision. NYPD invoked driver privacy when denying a 2015 Streetsblog FOIL for records on the Manhattan curb-jump crash that killed UPS worker Mike Rogalle, but released a one-page report on the crash upon appeal. The report cited driver error as the cause of that crash.