Attorney Claims State Officials Intentionally Violated HIPAA to Enforce SAFE Act
A Western New York Attorney is accusing the State Police of misusing legally protected medical information to enforce the New York SAFE Act. The accusation is at the center of a lawsuit Jim Tresmond is preparing on behalf of an Erie County man who was mistakenly identified as violating a mental health provision in the law.
“Due process is backward in the situation as far as the SAFE Act. First, you’re convicted then you have to prove you’re innocent. That flies in the face of our constitution,” Tresmond said.
Tresmond’s client, David Lewis, 35, of Amherst was ordered to turn in his weapons last week because he was once on anti-anxiety medication. Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs told YNN he was notified by State Police that Lewis was in violation of the mental health provision of the law, and was ordered to pull his firearms license.
About a week after Lewis’ license was revoked, Jacobs said he got a call from New York State Police explaining “they had the wrong guy.” A day after Jacobs went public with the information State Police said it was Jacobs who made the error, not them.
“The State Police they have the investigatory ability, not the County Clerk and not the Supreme Court Judge who signed the order,” Tresmond said.
Tresmond claims while investigating the “mistake” he discovered that State police had examined his client’s medical records without a valid search warrant. Tresmond said that’s a clear violation of federal and state privacy laws in addition to the New York State Criminal Procedure Law.
“This is not a simple case of mistaken identity. Mr. Lewis’ medical privacy was invaded and he was publicly defamed and humiliated by New York State officials,” Tresmond said.
Tresmond went a step further, accusing the State of creating a “clandestine HIPAA unit” within the Division for Criminal Justice Services, charged with examining New York residents’ medical records without warrant.
“I believe there are seven officers assigned to this unit, who are assigned to review those HIPAA files. And try to nab those people who are on certain medications, certain treatments, and then pull their licenses across the state,” said Tresmond.
A State Police spokesperson told YNN the accusations are “flat wrong.”
David Lewis himself spoke out for the first time Friday as his story has now gained national attention. He told YNN’s Katie Cummings the whole situation has been a nightmare.
“I was extremely shocked and saddened and immediately just felt embarrassed knowing that someone had thought negatively of me and wrongly. I had absolutely no idea how this could have happened,” Lewis said.
A State Supreme Court Judge reinstated Lewis’s firearms license Thursday, but Tresmond isn’t satisfied.
“They were absolutely in violation of his civil rights at the state level. They didn’t do their due diligence. We’re going to go to Federal Court and seek damages against the State of New York. We’re going to seek damages against the State Police,” Tresmond added.
Meantime, another man by the name of David Lewis in Orange County was ordered to turn in his guns this week. Tresmond does not believe that was the “mistake” referred to by State police.
“We will be relentless in our pursuit of the truth and justice in this case,” Tresmond added.
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