- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Thursday postponed releasing a report critical of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's police department after the mayor invoked his right under federal law to review it.

The action followed media reports that commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry, one of six Democratic appointees on the eight-member panel, made a $250 contribution to the Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Giuliani's likely opponent.

"It's clear the chairman of the commission is a Mrs. Clinton supporter," said Giuliani spokesman Juleanna Glover Weiss. "The timing [of the report] is suspicious, to put it mildly. We believe it's clearly politically motivated."

The Washington Times first reported the agency's planned action against Mr. Giuliani on Tuesday.

In addition, The Times has learned that a Republican member of the commission filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of his own agency after it stymied his attempts to obtain transcripts of the hearing on the New York police.

In a prepared statement, Miss Berry said her donation to Mrs. Clinton's campaign is not a conflict for her.

"The commission's work on police-community relations in New York City has nothing to do with the Senate election in New York," she said. "Clinton is not a subject of the inquiry, and Giuliani is a subject only insofar as he is responsible as mayor of New York City for the police department."

The commission was to have taken up its report on the New York City police Friday. But the agency scratched the item from its agenda, according to an internal memo, because the staff had not completed the report.

The postponement came less than 24 hours after the mayor's office reminded Miss Berry in a letter that federal law requires the commission to give a draft to all relevant parties, who then have 30 days to comment before the study is made public. The mayor's office learned of the report's imminent release only from newspaper articles.

"It was a huge surprise to learn about the status of this matter through leaks to the media," said Steven Fishner, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator. "There is so little basic procedural fairness in the commission."

Section 702.18 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires the commission to give parties that might be "defamed or degraded" by its reports a chance to respond. Florida's Republican governor, Jeb Bush, complained to the commission last week that his office received no notice before the panel released a report critical of his proposal to eliminate affirmative action in higher education in the state.

"The whole world is now watching this," Mr. Fishner said. "This [report] was all set up to be sprung, but now the spotlight has been focused on it."

An assistant to Miss Berry referred questions to the agency's press office, which did not call back Thursday.

The commission held a hearing in New York City in May 1999 after the highly publicized fatal police shooting of immigrant Amadou Diallo and the torture of Haitian immigrant Aber Louima while in police custody after an arrest on disorderly conduct charges. Nearly a year later, the report's imminent release comes just as Mr. Giuliani has lost ground to Mrs. Clinton in polls over his response to another police shooting of an unarmed minority person.

Two New York newspapers reported Thursday that Miss Berry donated $250 to Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign on Sept. 14, 1999, and contributed $300 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in April 1999.

Transcripts of the commission's hearing on the police department have been sought for several months by Commissioner Russell Redenbaugh, one of two Republican appointees on the eight-member panel. But the commission has rebuffed Mr. Redenbaugh's request, prompting him to file the request for the information on March 30. Staff told Mr. Redenbaugh that the agency's lawyers are still reviewing the transcripts for errors, according to a source close to the commission.

It is believed that the commission will recommend a federal monitor for the police department. In a letter to Miss Berry, Mr. Fishner noted that the department in 1999 recorded its lowest number of fatal police shootings, 11, since it began keeping records.

Mr. Fishner also reminded the commission that all four officers involved in the Diallo shooting were acquitted of criminal charges.

"These developments, which occurred since the commission's hearing more than 10 months ago, are clearly important to any fair evaluation of the NYPD, and they should be included in the Commission's report," he wrote.

The mayor's office said New York had a rate of 0.26 fatal shootings per 1,000 police officers in 1999, lower than Chicago (0.96), Philadelphia (1.00), the District of Columbia (1.14), Houston (1.68) and Miami-Metro Dade (3.00).

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