What to Know
- The confidential report reveals black members of a community group had their backgrounds run through a criminal database
- In recent interviews, Rockland County officials denied any improper surveillance
- Members of the group whose backgrounds were run said it felt as if their civil rights had been violated
The I-Team has obtained a confidential police intelligence report that, despite continued denials by officials, reveals black members of a Rockland County-based community group had their backgrounds checked through a criminal database.
The report was compiled by the Strategic Intelligence Unit (SIU), a joint venture of the Clarkstown Police Department and the Rockland County district attorney’s office.
The community group, We the People, is a local organization with no history of violence. Members, who often meet at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Spring Valley, sponsor events such as clean-up days for kids.
The I-Team showed the SIU report to three members of the group whose photos and personal, private information are detailed in the report. In total, the report dossiers on 13 group members.
John Miles, a nurse, wondered why the background checks were done.
"The things we do are within our community, for our community," Miles said. "To have our names run through a database because we’re part of a black organization is racial profiling, if you ask me.”
George Brooks, a hospital analyst, said, “They don’t have a right to run my name through any database, as far as I know. So I definitely feel like my civil rights have been violated.”
Last year, We the People helped sell tickets to a play in Haverstraw called "A Clean Shoot." The group’s spokesman, Weldon McWilliams, a minister and college professor, said the production was not about advocating violence against police.
“It was a situation where a cop killed another cop, and the questions being raised in that play is what went into that situation," McWilliams said. "Why was another cop killed by this cop?”
William Harrington was hired by the Clarkstown Town Board in late July to review police procedures. He told the I-Team his investigation has uncovered evidence that the SIU violated the civil rights of individuals.
“If the police are given license to conduct an investigation with respect to any group without evidence because they possibly, might be inciting violence, then there’s going to be chaos,” he said.
In recent interviews, Rockland County officials denied any improper surveillance, maintaining the word “Shoot” sparked a review by the SIU for a possible threat. District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said the goal was to protect We the People and another group that was monitored, Black Lives Matter.
“They put a safety net over We the People to make sure there were not threats against the group,” he said. Zugibe added the same was done to ensure the safety of members of Black Lives Matter.
McWilliams said he found that argument hard to believe.
“I want to know, protect us from what?” he said. “Why wouldn’t there be any type of notification, any type of reaching out to the group to alert us to the fact you’re protecting us against something?”
The Rockland County district attorney and Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan, now on paid leave, originally told the I-Team that no one in We the People was put through a criminal database. They said the information that the SIU collected only included information publicly available on social media.
Members of We the People countered that claim, saying they never put private details listed in the intelligence report on social media. The report also clearly notes whether or not subjects had criminal histories or interaction with police. After being informed of the evidence the I-Team uncovered, Rockland County officials changed their position and said group members were not run through the state criminal database, only the Clarkstown police database.
Brooks said the shift in position and the appearance of lying "does nothing to help police and community relations."
"It just keeps the skepticism going with how people of color view the police department," he said.