Nonprofit law firm New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a lawsuit Monday against the New York City Police Department to obtain the body camera footage and 911 call tapes from the NYPD’s fatal shooting of Maspeth resident Susan Muller last September.
NYPD officers, while responding to a burglary that Muller, 54, called in herself, shot and killed her on Sept. 17, 2018, after she lunged at the responding officers with a 10-inch kitchen knife in her home in Queens, according to police officials.
Muller’s irrational behavior had reportedly been known to her precinct. Officers at the 104th Precinct, who had responded to nine 911 calls to her home since 2000, were familiar with her — but on the day of her shooting, members of the 110th, 111th and 114th precincts responded to the call because they were covering for 104th Precinct who were attending a funeral for a fellow officer.
In the wake of the shooting, NYLPI made a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the unedited audio and video files from all of the body-worn cameras of every officer involved in the incident. The law firm also requested unedited audio files from the 911 calls made by Muller that day.
Several days after the incident, John Mastronardi, former commanding officer of the 104th Precinct in Ridgewood, assured attendees of a community meeting that at least one or two of the officers at the scene were wearing body cameras. But the NYLPI claims that when it attempted to obtain the footage, the NYPD issued a blanket denial, and refused to provide even redacted portions of audio and video files.
Following a separate NYLPI lawsuit, the state Supreme Court ordered the NYPD in June to turn over unedited body cam footage in the fatal police shooting of Miguel Richards, an individual with disabilities. Ruth Lowenkron, director of the disability justice program at NYLPI, along with former NYPD Assistant Commissioner Stuart Parker and legal counsel at Milbank, filed the suit.
“We should not have to take the NYPD to court repeatedly to confirm the public’s right under New York’s Freedom of Information Law to view body-worn camera footage of tragic incidents where people with disabilities who call 911 are shot by police officers,” said Lowenkron. “How many more New Yorkers need to die before we reform the way we handle mental health crises?”