FOILed Again: Judicial Watch Battles for Transparency in Cardillo Murder Case

FOILed Again: Judicial Watch Battles for Transparency in Cardillo Murder Case

Judicial Watch followers have been asking about the outcome of our appeal to the New York State Supreme Court for information related to the murder of NYPD Patrolman Phillip Cardillo. Cardillo was gunned down inside Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam Mosque in 1972, in one of the most notorious crimes of the era—the Harlem Mosque Incident.

No one ever served a day in jail for the killing. A special prosecutor later concluded that there was “a concerted and orchestrated effort by members and former members of the Police Department to impede the investigation into the murder of Patrolman Philip Cardillo.”

Let that sink in for a moment: the New York Police Department blocked an investigation into the murder of one of its own.


Decades later, retired police detective Randy Jurgensen revived interest in the case with his book, Circle of Six. Judicial Watch stepped in to help. We uncovered new documents and new theories of the crime. You can read about it here and here.

But one organization was distinctly unhelpful: the NYPD. It stonewalled Judicial Watch’s questions and requests for documents. Finally, we’d had enough, and in 2017 we sued the department for violating New York State’s Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.

We sought case documents and an audio copy of a fake emergency telephone call that had caused police to race into the mosque. The case documents might yield valuable clues to new theories of the crime, we reasoned. We planned to make the audio tape widely available. Even after all these years, someone might recognize the voice that had lured Cardillo to his death.

The NYPD responded to our legal action with a brazen claim: that the four-decade-old case was still “active and ongoing.”

The commanding officer of the NYPD Major Case Squad claimed under oath that the Cardillo murder “is an open investigation and remains actively pursued by the NYPD.” And that audio tape? Sorry, we can’t find it.

Judge Verna Saunders accepted the NYPD’s claim, saying she had “no basis to discredit” the sworn statement of the head of the Major Case Squad. She ruled in favor of the NYPD.

We appealed. But in December, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court turned us down. It supported Judge Saunders’ decision. We lost.

The Appellate Division ruled that the NYPD “properly withheld the requested materials pursuant to the exemption to FOIL for documents that ‘are compiled for law enforcement purposes and which, if disclosed would . . . interfere with law enforcement investigations.’”

The Appellate Division noted the NYPD “submitted an affidavit by a police captain setting forth information obtained from the detective leading an active, ongoing investigation into the homicide, which included receiving tips from informants and conducting interviews of potential witnesses.” The NYPD “established that disclosing the records sought could interfere with the investigation by compromising the apprehension of perpetrators… or deterring witnesses from cooperating with the police.”

Read the full decision here.

We respect the court decisions. And while we continue to doubt that the investigation into the Cardillo murder is “active” and “ongoing,” it strikes us that the NYPD claims, if true, are big news. A truly active investigation into the Harlem Mosque Incident would be a bombshell development. It would suggest that an arrest in the case could be imminent, and that justice may finally be at hand for Phillip Cardillo.

We’ll delve into intriguing revelations from our legal case in an upcoming Investigative Bulletin. We’ll name names, and we’ll explore what new surprises might loom in New York’s most notorious cold-case killing.


Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips:

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