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Judge Orders NYPD Turn Over Public Records On Horse-Drawn Carriage Incidents

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Opponents of the city's horse-drawn carriages scored a victory Monday, after a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled the NYPD must comply with a Freedom of Information Act request from an animal rights group.
As CBS 2's Diane Macedo reported, the ruling Monday ordered that the NYPD turn over any records related to horse carriage incidents to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

"The health and safety of carriage horses are seriously at risk, but this is also just about our right as citizens to get documents," said attorney Christopher Wlach, representing the ALDF.

Judge Orders NYPD Turn Over Public Records On Horse-Drawn Carriage Incidents

In petitioning the court, the organization claimed that there is "clear evidence of ongoing violations, accidents and injuries" involving horse-drawn carriages, but that police refuse to hand over public records of incidents involving horse-drawn carriages.

"Over the course of a year we got absolutely not one page of documents, and today, the judge rightly said the NYPD should produce the documents," Wlach said.

The main issue seemed to be the NYPD's interpretation of the request.

"For instance, the NYPD was claiming that when we requested documents related to the health, safety and well-being of carriage horses, that documents involving a carriage horse getting hit by a car would not be included within the scope of the request. And the judge rightly called that a humorous distinction," Wlach said.

The NYPD would not comment to CBS 2 on the ruling. The department has 45 days to reexamine its records and comply with the information request.

The ruling came less than a week after a city horse carriage flipped near the Plaza Hotel, temporarily pinning a horse to the ground.

A bus startled a horse and it fell over on the sidewalk, becoming pinned to the ground by its carriage last Wednesday, according to a tourist from Oklahoma who provided CBS 2 with photos of the incident.

Horse Carriage Accident Near Plaza Hotel
The scene of a horse carriage accident near the Plaza Hotel on April 23, 2014. (credit: Image via CBS 2)

The tourist claimed the horse was made to continue working even though it was limping.

A carriage driver on the scene of accident disputed the tourist's account of what happened.

"He did not spook. He did not collapse. Contrary to rumors, he was not startled by a bus. There was no bus on 59th Street at the time," said carriage driver Christina Hansen. "We are very happy Spartacus is fine."

The group Historic Horse-Drawn Carriages of Central Park said the horse tripped when another carriage unexpectedly pulled out and clipped his wheel.

"Several carriage drivers immediately came to the horse's aid, keeping him calm and laying down while they unharnessed him, got him untangled and righted the lightweight carriage before safely allowing him to get to his feet," the group said in a statement. "Unharmed, Spartacus was reharnessed and rehitched to the carriage."

Spartacus was taken back to his Midtown stable where he given a clean bill of health.

But opponents of the horse-carriage industry said the accident highlights the dangers to horses and humans.

"Horses and traffic do not mix," said Alie Feldman of anti-horse carriage group NYCLASS.

On Monday, carriage opponents said the judge's ruling is sure to shed light on many more incidents.

"It's in everybody's best interests to see what's actually happened; to see the records of how many accidents that have resulted in people injured, cars ruined, and horses dead or hurt," said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"It's a step in the right direction, at least of there being some accountability," said Lauren D'Alvia.

While opponents of the carriages said they present an animal welfare issue, supporters said the horses are actually very well cared for -- sometimes better than most people.

"I wish I could live like a carriage horse -- dental checkups, vacations," said Norm Augustinus.

"They see the doctor minimum five, four times a year," said horse carriage driver Ahmet Bilici. "How many people see the doctor one time a year?"

As for accidents, Bilici said, "You have to look at how many accidents happen; how many times."

Wlach said he hopes the ruling Monday will reveal exactly that.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is looking to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city and replace them with electric vintage-style vehicles dubbed "E-Carriages."

De Blasio wanted to ban the horses during his first week in office, but earlier this month he said he expects the City Council to ban the practice by year's end.

As WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported, de Blasio was Monday if NYPD horses would be included in the ban. De Blasio said police animals are a horse of a different color.

"I know Commissioner Bratton. He constantly evaluates the work of the NYPD. I'm sure he will continue to do that going forward. But to date, my understanding is the NYPD thinks that plays an important and strategic role. That's totally different from horses utilized by private-sector companies as part of the tourist trade," the mayor said.

The City Council has not yet introduced the legislation on the proposed ban.

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