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Council Members To Subpoena Health Department Over Never-Released 2017 Police-Involved Deaths Draft Report

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Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at an NYPD graduation ceremony in 2016 at Madison Square Garden. MICHAEL APPLETON/MAYORAL PHOTOGRAPHY OFFICE

A never-released 2017 draft report by the city Health Department revealing that police-involved deaths of New York City residents went under-reported, has now drawn the attention of two powerful New York City Council members who plan to subpoena the agency if the draft's not released this week.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmember Ritchie Torres, who chairs the Oversight and Investigations Committee, say the Health Department has until June 23rd to provide the report to the Council and June 26th to hand over any drafts of the report that went to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Racism and police brutality are public health emergencies, but we cannot fight those battles in full force when the City is hiding information about New Yorkers killed by police. New Yorkers deserve to know why this report was delayed. Oversight Chair Ritchie Torres and I are issuing a subpoena to find out,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson. 

The New York Times revealed the report's existence on Friday afternoon, outlining that Dr. Mary Bassett, then the Health Commissioner, had launched the study, using data from the NYPD, to compile the number of deaths at the hands of police. It found that contrary to the Police Department's reporting that there were 46 police-related deaths between 2010 and 2015, the Health Department found the actual number to be 105 during that same period.

Citing the report, the Times also found that the new, unreported deaths comprised of 13 bystanders hit by police bullets or pedestrians hit and killed from vehicle accidents related to police activity. There were also racial disparities tied to these deaths, according to the report, noting that "six black New Yorkers and five Hispanic residents who died as a result of encounters with the police during this period were unarmed; no unarmed whites were killed."

Bassett had delivered the draft report to de Blasio in 2017. She was still working on a final report even after leaving the administration in 2018, but did not receive much support in having a final draft completed by current NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, according to the Times.

In a statement to Gothamist, an NYPD spokesperson said it's supportive of the subpoena since the agency has "not seen [the report] either."

"We are happy to provide relevant data or information that the council requests. We are committed to transparency and accountability and have comprehensive Use of Force reports on our website that includes that data provided to the Department of Health," read the statement.

Patrick Gallahue, a Health Department spokesperson said the research had been presented at conference and to partner agencies, "led us to understand that there are gaps in the data and that we need a better system. "

“Speaker Johnson and I are going to issue a subpoena to obtain the internal DOHMH document revealing the NYPD’s egregious underreporting of deaths at the hands of police," said Torres in a statement. "The Council rarely issues subpoenas. But given the seriousness of DOHMH withholding information about unreported police-involved deaths, the Speaker and I concluded that we have been left with no other choice."

Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, told Gothamist, “Dr. Bassett sat on this information for five years and only told the mayor a few weeks ago. He immediately responded to her and in the weeks since our Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services has been in touch with her. We are now digging into the findings to determine next steps."

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