CORRUPTION IN UNIFORM: THE DOWD CASE; Officer Flaunted Corruption, And His Superiors Ignored It

The article as it originally appeared.

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July 7, 1994, Page 00001The New York Times Archives

Over a span of six years, the New York City Police Department received 16 complaints alleging that Police Officer Michael Dowd had been robbing drug dealers and dealing cocaine as part of a gang of corrupt officers in the 75th Precinct in the crime-ridden East New York section of Brooklyn.

That wasn’t all. The officer drove to work in a bright red Corvette and sometimes had a limousine pick him up at the station house for gambling trips to Atlantic City.

Yet in a clear example of what went wrong with the department’s handling of corruption cases, an investigative panel, the Mollen Commission, has concluded that senior officers repeatedly ignored allegations against Officer Dowd or blocked efforts to check them out in a deliberate policy to shield the department from scandal. Officer Dowd was eventually arrested by another department and is now facing sentencing on drug charges.

The senior officers’ behavior, the panel concluded, was influenced by the tone set at the top. The panel’s report, which will be released formally today, found that Benjamin Ward, who was the Police Commissioner when the first allegations were made against Officer Dowd in 1986, had been deeply shaken by a corruption scandal in another Brooklyn precinct at about the same time.

And it quoted Charles J. Hynes, who was then the state’s special prosecutor for police corruption, as saying that Mr. Ward was convinced that further revelations of police misconduct would cripple the department.

But whatever the motivation, the commission said, Mr. Ward and Daniel F. Sullivan, the chief of the Inspectional Services Bureau from 1986 to 1992, “by their action — or inaction — created an unmistakable policy to avoid corruption scandals.”

Mr. Ward said he could not comment on the report because he had not seen it. Chief Sullivan told the commission that his subordinates never informed him about Officer Dowd until 1992.

Because of the perceived policy, Mr. Dowd and his “crew” of crooked officers flaunted the illegal wheeling and dealing that brought some of them as much as $8,000 a week for not interfering with drug sales along with whatever cocaine they could steal as they broke down doors at drug dens and ripped off dealers.

And even though complaints about Officer Dowd had been submitted as early as 1986, his 1987 performance evaluation described him as an officer with “excellent street knowledge” who is “empathetic to the community.”

It concludes, “Good career potential.”

Officer Dowd, who is 32, was finally arrested in 1992, not by New York City Police investigators, but by officers from Suffolk County. They had intercepted telephone conversations between the officer and a small-time drug dealer. He is now in the Manhattan Correctional Center awaiting sentencing on drug charges. The revelations that grew out of Officer Dowd’s arrest led Mayor David N. Dinkins to announce the creation of the Mollen Commission on June 25, 1992.

The panel’s report concluded that for nearly a decade the Police Department had abandoned its responsibility to insure the honesty of its members.

Fearing that reports of corruption in their commands would damage their careers, senior officers looked the other way, the commission said. Information in internal investigations was deliberately fragmented, rather than woven together to form a pattern, and cases were closed well before all leads had been exhausted.

In the fall of 1992, a report issued by Police Commissioner Lee P. Brown blamed the department’s failure to intervene in the crimes of Mr. Dowd and his fellow rogue cops on a breakdown in procedures.

But the Mollen Commission said it concluded that the problem was “a willful effort” by commanders of the Internal Affairs Division, the principal anti-corruption unit, to impede the investigation. Internal Affairs, it said, treated allegations against Mr. Dowd as separate incidents and withheld critical information from another investigator.

“By doing so,” the commission said, “Internal Affairs commanders doomed any hope of a successful investigation of Dowd and other corrupt officers of the 75th Precinct.” Holdup Provides Example

One example of how police investigators failed to make the most of leads was the holdup on July 1, 1988, by three officers in the 75th Precinct of a grocery store that was serving as a front for drug dealing. Officer Walter Yurkiw and two others were charged with the crime after robbery investigators found the car they had used, with money and drugs visible inside, parked near the station house.

Three weeks after the robbery, the precinct commander, Deputy Inspector John Harkins, told Captain Thomas Callahan of the Internal Affairs Division that he had heard rumors that Mr. Dowd was also involved in the robbery, the commission said. A few days later, a precinct lieutenant told Internal Affairs that Mr. Dowd had reportedly been seen at a bar with Officer Yurkiw and the others shortly before the robbery.

About two weeks later, two drug dealers told an Internal Affairs officer that their drug organization was paying Mr. Dowd $3,000 to $4,000 a week, plus an ounce of cocaine, for protection.

All this came to nothing. Instead, the robbery investigation remained focused on the three officers.

A few months later, Officer Yurkiw’s girlfriend, who told the police she used cocaine, got in touch with Internal Affairs, saying that Officer Yurkiw had threatened to kill her unless she provided an alibi for him in the grocery store robbery. She also told Internal Affairs about Mr. Dowd and others at the precinct.

An Internal Affairs officer reported that the woman’s “credibility and allegiances were suspect.” Yet, the Commission said, her testimony was nevertheless used.

Despite “incontrovertible indications of serious corruption,” the commission said, Internal Affairs never initiated a single investigation of Officer Dowd and, until the Long Island police intervened, the allegations against him “inevitably died a natural death.”

July 7, 1994, NYTimes, “CORRUPTION IN UNIFORM: THE DOWD CASE; Officer Flaunted Corruption, And His Superiors Ignored It”, https://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/07/nyregion/corruption-uniform-dowd-case-officer-flaunted-corruption-his-superiors-ignored.html

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East NY Precinct Paid $9M In Police Misconduct Suits, Data Shows

East New York’s 75th precinct is the city’s most sued and has paid more money in settlements than any other, new data shows.

By Kathleen Culliton, Patch Staff | 
One Brooklyn precinct faced more misconduct lawsuits than any other in the city, data shows.
One Brooklyn precinct faced more misconduct lawsuits than any other in the city, data shows. (Shutterstock)
EAST NEW YORK, BROOKLYN — An East New York father, framed for a kidnapping he did not commit and forced to spend 16 years in prison, is just one of almost 100 people who have sued the 75th Precinct since 2015, a new database shows.The 75th precinct at 1000 Sutter Ave. is the most sued precinct in New York City with 91 federal lawsuits filed since 2015 and, at $9.1 million, has paid out the most money in settlements, according to the Legal Aid Society’s new database, CAPstat.

CAPstat, launched Wednesday, provides users access to data culled from federal civil rights lawsuits and disciplinary summaries provided by BuzzFeed with the hope of improving transparency within the NYPD, Legal Aid Society officials said.

“We join a national movement including fellow defenders, advocates, and community members to shed much needed daylight on police departments,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, Legal Aid staff attorney.

“CAPstat will help New Yorkers gain a more thorough understanding of lawsuits filed against the NYPD for misconduct and will help the public hold the NYPD accountable.”

The data shows that East New York’s precinct surpasses every other in the city for the number of police misconduct lawsuits in federal civil court and the cost of payouts, CAPstat data shows.

The second-most sued precinct, the 71st precinct in Crown Heights, faced just 29 lawsuits, less than a third of the 75’s, in the same period. Bushwick’s 83rd precinct came second for settlement costs of $530,000, or just 6 percent of what the East New York precinct paid.

Reginald Connor, the East New York father framed by police for the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old girl Jennifer Negron in 1992, claimed most of that money when he sued the 75th precinct in 2014.

Connor was granted nearly $8 million after spending 16 years in jail and being forced to register as a sex offender, court records show.

In their complaint, Connor’s attorneys noted the 75th precinct became “one of the most notorious examples of unchecked police corruption and misconduct in the City’s history” in 1992, when 75th precinct Officer Michael Dowd was busted for running a massive drug dealing operation out of the precinct.

Dowd’s arrest led the city to establish the Mollen Commission, which spent almost two years investigating NYPD corruption in precincts across New York.

The commission found “a system that had virtually collapsed years ago,” attorneys wrote.

According to Connor’s complaint, an NYPD sergeant admitted that of 750 murder investigations he supervised at the 75th Precinct between 1992 and 1994, only one was done correctly.

 

Kathleen Culliton, Patch Staff | “East NY Precinct Paid $9M In Police Misconduct Suits, Data Shows”, https://patch.com/new-york/brownsville/east-ny-precinct-paid-9m-police-misconduct-suits-data-shows

Looking for Details on Rogue N.Y. Police Officers? This Database Might Help

Some New York City police officers are sued more often than others. The Legal Aid Society has created a searchable database of 2,300 lawsuits filed against city police officers since 2015. Karsten Moran for The New York Times

By Ali Winston, March 6, 2019

For decades, New York has gone further than most states in keeping police misconduct records confidential, even as high-profile incidents like Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island at the hands of police officers prompted calls from civil-rights advocates for more transparency and accountability.

The Legal Aid Society took a step on Wednesday toward lifting the veil on allegations of police misconduct by releasing a detailed database that collates and analyzes about 2,300 lawsuits filed against New York City police officers since 2015.

[Here is the database.]

Legal Aid’s decision to create a public database of lawsuits is part of a national push by civil rights groups and journalists to document and analyze police misconduct. The effort has gathered momentum in recent years after a series of fatal shootings by the police sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. It has also drawn criticism from police unions in New York and elsewhere, who argue many allegations against officers are false.

In California, police unions are in a protracted court battle with civil rights groups and media organizations over a law that makes public substantiated incidents of officer misconduct. And a journalism organization in Chicago has published a database of decades of misconduct complaints, which has led to several policy changes.

The New York City database, named CAPstat, is searchable by an officer’s name, unit, precinct and type of allegation — or by the names of the people filing suit. The data includes court records, news articles and published decisions about officers that defense attorneys have obtained.

To date, the database includes 2,339 lawsuits filed from January 2015 through mid-2018 against 3,897 officers, as well as internal disciplinary records for about 1,800 officers accused of misconduct between 2011 and 2015.

The database includes a summary of the complaint and the outcome of each case, but the Legal Aid Society said it cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the allegations, since many suits are settled without the police admitting wrongdoing.

Still, Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society who is spearheading the database project with the group’s Cop Accountability Project team, said one aim is to identify, track and analyze patterns of misconduct.

“Our interest is not just who is a bad officer,” Ms. Conti-Cook said. “The interest is in which commands are really cultivating the type of misconduct that systematically goes undisciplined, completely unchecked, unsupervised and allows officers to act without any accountability?”

 

Police union leaders said the database included false allegations and frivolous lawsuits that could be used to help defendants who are guilty to undermine the credibility of police witnesses at trial.

“The intent of this database is clearly to help guilty criminals beat the charges against them,” Patrick Lynch, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, said in an email. “By publishing this database online, they will be doing even greater damage: Anyone with a grudge against cops will be free to peruse the false and frivolous allegations against specific officers and use them as inspiration for a campaign of harassment, intimidation or worse.”

Many officers regard the roughly 3,000 lawsuits filed each year against the police as a cottage industry. They argue that in too many cases, people with flimsy complaints sue, knowing the city will find it cheaper to settle than to take the case to trial.

New York law prohibits the release of results of internal police investigations, deeming them personnel records. Judicial findings about officers who commit perjury are difficult to collect since they are not centrally recorded or archived. As a result, civil suits against officers are one of the few public, though imperfect, measures that can be used to gauge police misconduct, public defenders said.

The Police Department said in an email that “not all lawsuits filed for money have legal merit.”

“The ones that do can be valuable tools we use to improve officer performance and enhance training or policy where necessary,” the department said.

The lawsuits in the CAPstat database are public records taken from federal and state court websites. The database will include lawsuits that were dismissed or settled out of court. It will also incorporate four years of internal disciplinary records leaked to Buzzfeed News last year, even though those records are confidential under state law.

Joanna Schwartz, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies misconduct suits, said the CAPstat database could also be used by the police and city officials to identify problematic officers and units.

The current version of CAPstat includes a tool that allows users to see where the officers who have been sued for misconduct work, and with whom. The site also lets people map precincts with high numbers of officers who have been sued. The commands with the highest volume of complaints include the plainclothes narcotics units in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Other specialized units, like the Police Department’s gang squads, are also sued for misconduct more frequently than most patrol officers, the data shows. There are 132 gang squad officers included in the database who have been sued a total of 130 times.

There have been a higher number of lawsuits in some districts than others, led by the 75th Precinct, which covers East New York and Cypress Hills in Brooklyn.

“An officer can go completely under our radar for 10 years in a different command and as soon as they go there, they end up getting sued,” said Julie Ciccolini, a database administrator at the Legal Aid Society, who supervised the design of CAPstat.

Certain officers have been the target of many civil complaints as well.

Abdiel Anderson, a detective from Bronx Narcotics, has been the target of 44 lawsuits since 2015, the most of any officer, according to the database.

Sgt. David Grieco, a veteran anti-crime detective who worked in the 75th Precinct for years and was known as “Bullethead” on the street, has been sued at least 31 times, resulting in at least $410,752 in settlement payments, the data shows.

Detective Anderson and Sergeant Grieco did not return calls for comment.

“We hope that this is a tool for the city to identify patterns and address common patterns of misconduct that are pretty obvious if you digest the lawsuits that are coming in and being served on the city,” Ms. Conti-Cook said.

Ali Winston, March 6, 2019, NYTimes, “Looking for Details on Rogue N.Y. Police Officers? This Database Might Help”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/06/nyregion/nypd-capstat-legal-aid-society.html

 

 

COURT REJECTS CLAIM THAT SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IS NOT POLICE MISCONDUCT

FEBRUARY 28, 2019

NEW YORK – Today, a New York court ruled that the independent city agency to investigate civilian complaints of misconduct by the NYPD, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), could lawfully investigate complaints of sexual harassment.

Last year after the CCRB announced that it would begin to investigate sexual misconduct complaints, the city’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), filed a lawsuit challenging the CCRB’s sexual misconduct resolution. The challenge sought to keep investigations of sexual abuse allegations under the control of the NYPD and out of the public eye, arguing that police misconduct was not an “abuse of authority.” The New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project filed an amicus brief supporting the CCRB against the PBA’s challenge.

In response to today’s decision, the New York Civil Liberties Union released the following statement from Executive Director Donna Lieberman:

“We know what happens when the police are left to police themselves. Today’s ruling affirms that sexual abuse is a grave form of police misconduct and should be reviewed by the CCRB to help ensure that investigations are transparent and fair. Survivors of sexual harassment have been silenced for far too long but today’s decision is a welcome first-step toward increased police accountability.”

 

“COURT REJECTS CLAIM THAT SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IS NOT POLICE MISCONDUCT”, FEBRUARY 28, 2019, https://www.nyclu.org/en/press-releases/court-rejects-claim-sexual-misconduct-not-police-misconduct

BASQUAIT’S POLICE BRUTALITY WORK HEADED TO GUGGENHEIM

By Erin White, December 19, 2018

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1983 painting “Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)” was inspired by an early-morning encounter that Michael Stewart, 25, had with NYPD. Stewart was accused of spraying graffiti at a First Avenue subway station in the East Village. It was here where Stewart was kicked and beaten by as many as 11 police officers. “About 45 minutes later he arrived bruised, bleeding and comatose at Bellevue Hospital. …He died 13 days later without regaining consciousness.”Six white cops were eventually charged for the violence. All six cops were acquitted.

Fast-forward 35 years and Basquiat’s interpretation of the brutality is at the center of the Guggenheim’s “Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’: The Untold Story” (June 21-Nov. 6, 2019). “[It] will explore a formative chapter in the artist’s career through the lens of his identity and the role of cultural activism in New York City during the early 1980s” and “examine Basquiat’s exploration of Black identity, his protest against police brutality, and his attempts to craft a singular aesthetic language of empowerment.”

According to CultureType, the painting (originally painted directly on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio) was never meant for public consumption and has rarely been exhibited, which makes its appearance at the Guggenheim, of all places, a bit ironic.

Erin White, December 19, 2018, afropunk.com, “BASQUAIT’S POLICE BRUTALITY WORK HEADED TO GUGGENHEIM”, https://afropunk.com/2018/12/basquaits-police-brutality-work-headed-to-guggenheim/

Right to Know Is Now the Law. Here’s What That Means.

The Right to Know Act was passed in 2017 in response to the uproar over the Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk.CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times
Image
The Right to Know Act was passed in 2017 in response to the uproar over the Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk.CreditCreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

By Ashley Southall, Oct. 19, 2018

The New York Police Department ordered 10 million business cards that officers must hand out to people they stop on the street. The cards will include the officers’ names and ranks, and are required under the new Right to Know Act.

The law, which took effect Friday, also spells out what officers must do before searching individuals, their belongings or their homes in cases where the person is not suspected of a crime or there is probable cause to conduct a search.

The Right to Know Act was passed by the City Council in 2017 in response to the Police Department’s aggressive use of stop-and-frisk tactics. A federal judge had ruled in 2013 that the practice was unconstitutional and unfairly discriminated against blacks and Latinos.

The police have drastically scaled back such stops on New York streets, but proponents of the law say it will further shield civilians from harassment. Police officials say the department will fully implement the measures, though the city’s largest police union maintains that the measures are an unnecessary burden.

Here’s what New Yorkers should know about the rules:

Say an officer has a hunch that a man on the street has a concealed weapon, such as a knife or gun. The officer can ask who he is and where he is going, without having to provide any reason for the questioning.

But if the officer asks if the man has a weapon, or conducts a frisk, he must have an objective reason to believe that the man has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. For example, a radio call could have described a man wearing the same clothing.

If there is no objective reason, the officer must tell the man why he is questioning him and get his consent to conduct a pat-down.

To perform a search without a legal justification, police officers in the United States must gain consent that is voluntary, knowing and intelligent, and not coerced.

But there is no consensus about what officers should say. City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, the lead sponsor of the consent component of the Right to Know law, said that ambiguity leads to confusion among civilians about their rights during police stops.

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The Right to Know law seeks to make certain that officers ask explicitly for consent for searches that require it. Crucially, the police must tell people that they can refuse a search, and that a search cannot happen without their permission. Officers must affirm that people understand what is happening.

Police officers have to record a person giving or refusing consent on body cameras if they wear them, and by hand if they do not. (All uniformed patrol officers will be required to wear body cameras by the end of the year.) Officers also must provide interpretation if a person speaks limited English.

The consent requirements do not apply to searches conducted with a warrant or under other exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Those include when an officer sees evidence of a crime in plain view and when an emergency requires an officer to take immediate action to save lives.

Police officers were already required to give business cards to people who requested them after a stop. Officers must now hand out the cards — which list the officer’s name, rank and command, and the reason for the encounter — whenever they stop or search people they suspect are involved in a criminal activity who are ultimately not arrested or given a summons.

The police do not have to offer the cards during traffic stops, which make up a large portion of their encounters with civilians.

The card rule applies to stops at roadblocks and checkpoints, except for security at special events or locations that might be targets of crime. So, officers conducting bag checks at a subway station entrance do not need to hand out cards to people they stop. But if the police stop subway passengers after they have entered the station and release them, officers must offer the cards.

Officers assigned to cases must also offer business cards to crime victims and witnesses they interview.

If the police do not ask for your consent to be searched, or if you are not sure the circumstances require officers to do so, you can say, “I do not consent to being searched.”

This makes your objection clear, and it could come in handy later for a legal defense. You can also ask, “Am I free to leave?”

Similarly, if you give consent but change your mind, you can withdraw it by saying so.

If you are released from a stop and the police do not have a card to offer you, the law requires officers to write the information down by hand, or give it to you verbally and allow enough time to for you to take it in.

It might help to check records of the encounter. Reports on police stops can be requested online and must be provided within 10 days. They can also be picked up the same day at Police Headquarters.

Requests for body camera video can also be made online, and the police are required to acknowledge requests within five days and provide copies of the footage within 90 days.

If you believe the police did not follow the law, you can file a complaint online or by phone with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates accusations of police abuse or misconduct from members of the public.

The coalition of groups who pushed for the Right to Know law, Communities United for Police Reform, also provides assistance to the public.

Ashley Southall, Oct. 19, 2018, NYTimes, Right to Know Is Now the Law. Here’s What That Means.”, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/19/nyregion/right-to-know-act-nypd.html

 

POLICE REFORM IS COMING TO NEW YORK CITY, BUT WILL THE NYPD FOLLOW THE LAW?

In December 2017, the New York City Council passed two police reform measures, collectively known as the Right to Know Act, which aimed to improve communication and transparency during police stops and searches. On Friday, both bills will take full effect, and the New York Police Department will be tasked with implementing the council’s mandate to become more transparent and accountable. But there are good reasons to be skeptical that the NYPD will implement the law faithfully.

police policing right to know

The first measure requires the NYPD to develop a policy that instructs officers to let people know when they have the right to refuse to be searched. Under the consent-to-search law, if an officer wants to search someone, her home, her vehicle, or her property without a warrant or a legally recognized exception under the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, the officer must ask if the person voluntarily agrees to be searched.

The law also requires the officer to explain that no search will happen if the individual stopped says no, and it requires the officer to double check that the person stopped understands that explanation. If the person has limited English proficiency, the officer must use interpretation services so that the person understands what’s being asked of her.

If the officer has a body-worn camera, the encounter will be recorded, and the officer will be required to let the person know how to request a copy of that footage. The NYPD will also have to start keeping track of these encounters and publicly report how many searches are happening and, perhaps most importantly, the demographics of the people being asked to let an officer search them.

The second part of the Right to Know Act requires officers to identify themselves at the start of certain enforcement encounters, provide an explanation for why they stopped someone, and offer the person a business card at the end of any encounter that doesn’t result in an arrest or summons. So, for example, when officers ask to search someone or stops-and-frisks him, those officers will have to explain who they are and why that encounter is happening. If the person isn’t arrested or issued a summons, the officer must give him a business card, which will also include information on how to submit comments or complaints about how they were treated.

The Right to Know Act represents a critical response by communities who have been subjected to police misconduct and abuse for decades. 

Unfortunately, the version of the ID bill that became law has a huge loophole that swallows the original intent of the law. Under previous versions, officers would need to identify themselves in any nonemergency encounter involving investigative questioning. These types of encounters represent the vast majority of police stops. The version that was passed into law only requires officer identification when a person is “suspected of criminal activity.” But police don’t need to suspect someone of criminal activity to approach them, disrupt their daily routines, and question or harass them, since New York case law allows officers to approach people without any kind of suspicion and ask them to produce ID or question them about where they’re going.

The Right to Know Act’s passage was bittersweet for the New York Civil Liberties Union and our partners in Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), a coalition led by the communities who are most directly impacted by police abuse. We had advocated on behalf of these two bills for more than five years, but in the days leading up to the vote, we were forced to withdraw our support for the ID bill after it was severely watered down in closed-door meetingsbetween the bill’s sponsor, the council speaker, and the NYPD. CPR and the NYCLU were shut out of the backroom deal.

Such bad-faith negotiations raise a specter: Will we actually see the changes required by the Right to Know Act embraced by officers on patrol? That really depends on how committed the NYPD is to implementing these laws in good faith. And so far, the NYPD’s actions have created some reason for concern beyond the last-minute backroom deal.

After the bills were passed, the NYPD again disregarded the concerns of the people behind the legislation. The consent-to-search law starts off by expressing the council’s intent for the NYPD to develop its new policy “with input from the community and Council.” But the communities and advocates who had been the driving force behind this law were not consulted in any meaningful way. Instead, contrary to the law, the NYPD developed its new policies and guidance without any community guidance. This raises serious concerns about the NYPD’s commitment to fully following the law.

Minute but important details of the bill were crafted in consultation with advocates. Things like language access guarantees to make sure people are being asked for consent to search in a language they understand, the precise wording of particular exceptions to the rules, and other details were all subjects that communities debated, negotiated, and won in the final bill. The NYPD should have sought out these community voices, as the city council intended, to make sure that the department’s final policies and procedures accurately reflect what the law requires. We will be ready to call out any failures to live up to the promise of the legislation.

The Right to Know Act represents a critical response by communities who have been subjected to police misconduct and abuse for decades. It was the result of New Yorkers pushing back on a police department that, for too long, had been left to police itself. But as the NYPD has shown, it will try to hold on to as much of the status quo as politically possible, and that, in the long run, will only worsen the police’s reputation in the communities it’s supposed to protect and serve.

 

7 New York Police Officers Arrested in Prostitution and Gambling Investigation, Authorities Say

By Ashley Southall, Al Baker and Ali Winston,

 

[Update: It was a sweeping and complex criminal enterprise, prosecutors say. Read more.]

A three-year investigation ended Wednesday with the arrest of seven New York City police officers on prostitution, corruption and misconduct charges in connection with an illegal gambling and prostitution ring in Brooklyn and Queens, law enforcement officials said.

Two other officers, including a detective who until five months ago worked in the Internal Affairs Bureau, were stripped of their guns and shields and placed on administrative duty.

The police said that more than 40 civilians were also in custody or being sought in connection with the investigation, which began with an anonymous officer’s tip to the internal affairs unit in April 2015.

The arrested officers — three sergeants, two detectives and two officers — were indicted before they were taken into custody. They are suspected of providing protection for the ring’s activities in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, the police said. Area residents and public officials have long complained about brothels operating out of local homes, spas and bars, with new establishments popping up as quickly as the police shut the old ones down.

“Today, those who swore an oath and then betrayed it have felt the consequences of that infidelity,” the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said in a statement. “The people of this department are rightly held to the highest standard, and should they fail to meet it, the penalty will be swift and severe.”.

Mr. O’Neill said with the arrests, the internal affairs unit and the Queens district attorney have “sent a clear message: There is no place in the N.Y.P.D. for criminal or unethical behavior.”

The Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said the officers are expected to be arraigned Thursday in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens.

Police officials see the arrests as a successful effort to uproot rogue officers within department ranks. But the case is likely to test the Police Department’s will on transparency as inevitable questions emerge about any prior misconduct among the officers who have been arrested and others who are being questioned. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has asserted an expansive view of a state law shielding police disciplinary records from public disclosure, frustrating civil liberties groups.

The sergeants who were arrested on Wednesday are Carlos Cruz, 41, who worked in the detective squad in the 69th Precinct in Canarsie, Brooklyn; Louis Failla, 49, who was assigned to evidence collection in southern Queens; and Cliff Nieves, 37, an investigator in the Transit Bureau. They were taken into custody along with two detectives, Giovanny Rojas-Acosta, 40, who was assigned to the Central Investigations Division, and Rene Samaniego, 43, who worked in the vice squad in southern Brooklyn. Officers Giancarlo Raspanti, 43, of the 109th Precinct in Flushing, Queens, and Steven Nieves, 32, of the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn Heights were also arrested.

The police said Sergeant Cruz, Detective Rojas-Acosta and Detective Samaniego were being held overnight on enterprise corruption charges; Sergeant Nieves and Officer Nieves were charged with promoting prostitution. Sergeant Failla was charged with official misconduct, as was Officer Raspanti.

Two other detectives, Manuel Rodriguez and Rafael Vega, were stripped of their guns and shields and placed on administrative duty for violations of police rules, the police said. The police did not specify how the men ran afoul of department rules.

Detective Rodriguez previously worked in internal affairs and arrived in the 72nd Precinct just five months ago, according to a city official who discussed the investigation on the condition of anonymity. Detective Vega worked on investigations of criminal enterprises.

During the three-year inquiry, the police sent dozens of undercover officers to locations where the ring was thought to operate and conducted more than 300 hours of surveillance, the police said. Investigators also collected physical evidence and obtained court warrants to intercept the officers’ electronic communications, according to the police.

Arrests for prostitution have declined in recent years in the city, but it remains a stubborn problem in parts of Queens and Brooklyn. Arrest rates for prostitution offenses — including patronizing, promoting, compelling, permitting, loitering and sex trafficking — are higher in the two boroughs than elsewhere in New York City. Of the 2,019 prostitution arrests in the city last year, 641 were in Queens and 568 were in Brooklyn, according to police data reported to the state’s criminal justice agency.

The stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that extends through Corona, Jackson Heights and Woodside in Queens has been likened to Times Square of yesteryear, when it was an epicenter of vice. In Sunset Park on Wednesday evening, Luis Ludec, 60, a resident, said he has seen prostitutes working in the neighborhood.

“I’ve seen them at 5 a.m. on the corner,” he said, motioning toward 40th Street along Third Avenue. “You see the rubbers.”

He said the women tried to entice him, and asked him if he “wanted a date,” but he explained that he does not buy sex and is married. He said he last saw prostitutes in the area two weeks ago.

Ashley Southall, Al Baker and Ali Winston, , NYTimes, 7 New York Police Officers Arrested in Prostitution and Gambling Investigation, Authorities Say“, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/nyregion/nypd-gambling-prostitution.html

NYC has shelled out $384M in 5 years to settle NYPD suits

New York City has shelled out $384 million in taxpayer funds to settle cases of police misconduct over the past five years — and more than half of the suits brought against officers didn’t even go to trial, a Post analysis has found.

Some of the settled cases involved allegations of wrongful imprisonment or police brutality.

But others were seemingly nuisance suits of the kind that Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed in January 2015 to crack down on.

Hizzoner said then that he would aggressively challenge “ambulance-chasing lawyers” who “try to make a buck by gaming the system.

“The court process is long, it’s complicated, it’s costly. But we’ll do that to send a clear message that this has got to stop,” he said.

Several lawyers who regularly file misconduct suits against the NYPD said de Blasio’s edict has led the city’s lawyers to take a tougher stand during negotiations.

But data made public by the city Law Department show the city still struck 530 settlements for $5,000 or less, amounts that plaintiffs’ lawyers described as payments to make “nuisance” cases go away without litigation.

Civil rights lawyer and Pace Law School Professor Randolph McLaughlin — who scored a combined sum of more than $8 million for two men shot by a drunken off-duty cop — said payments in the low four figures were typical for “low-level” misconduct allegations that don’t involve violence or witnesses, such as “a little disrespect, just pushing and shoving.”

In the past five years, the city settled more than half of the 11,404 suits brought against it, giving settlement payouts to approximately 5,800 people.

A majority of the settlements — more than 3,000 — involved payments ranging from $5,001 to $25,000 each, which lawyer Jeffrey Rothman said could cover getting locked up on charges that were later dismissed.

“There’s a basic understanding that, for a night in jail, it’ll be approximately $20,000 — sometimes less and sometimes more,” said Rothman, who filed 64 cases tallied by the Law Department.

And while the city has been driving harder bargains since de Blasio’s pledge, lawyer Eric Siegle, whose firm struck 36 settlements worth a total $3.4 million, said the city’s refusal to make quick deals has also backfired on taxpayers because cops “usually don’t ’fess up to the city lawyers as to what really happened in the case.”

“When we go through discovery, our cases get so much better and so much stronger,” Siegle said.

“We’re getting more money later on — much more than we would have maybe taken at early settlement,” Siegle said, “because the egregious conduct of the police officers that we’re discovering through going the litigation process is much worse than we even anticipated.”

Lawyer Joel Rudin — who last year landed $2.5 million for an ex-Crips gang member who was wrongly convicted of killing a member of the rival Bloods gang — said he understood why the city’s attorneys would challenge legal claims “that they feel are without merit.”

“The problem is that when lawyers bring cases that do have merit, they fight them, too,” Rudin said.

While the majority of settlements was for comparatively small sums, a handful of payments of $1 million or more accounted for nearly $190 million of the total paid out by the city.

Many of those 37 cases involved plaintiffs who had spent decades in prison for wrongful convictions.

The biggest payments, of $13 million each, went last year to Antonio Yarbough and the estate of Abdul Shariff Wilson, who were convicted of stabbing and strangling Yarbough’s mother, his 12-year-old half-sister and the girl’s friend in the family’s Coney Island apartment in 1992.

Both men were freed after DNA testing in 2013 tied fingernail scrapings taken from Yarbough’s mother, Annie, to a still-unidentified male suspect in another slaying in Brooklyn in 1999 — which took place while both Yarbough and Wilson were behind bars.

The men were released in 2014, but Wilson died less than a year later of respiratory problems that his lawyer blamed on his time in prison.

In December, the city also agreed to pay $12.25 million to Andre Hatchett, who was convicted in the fatal 1991 beating of a woman whose body was dragged into a Bedford-Stuyvesant park and posed, naked, as if she’d been crucified — even though Hatchett had a cast on his leg at the time and needed crutches to get around after he was shot the year before.

Hatchett served 25 years in prison — more than half his life — before being released in 2016 at the age of 49 following a review of his case by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.

More recent cases include the wrongful death of Eric Garner from an illegal police chokehold on Staten Island in 2014, and the accidental police shooting death of Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project later that year. Their estates received $5.9 million and $4.5 million, respectively.

At the low end of the scale, the city in March paid $350 to Richard Porrazzo, who used fill-in legal papers to file suit in Manhattan federal court against “Detective Rogers” and other unidentified cops over claims that he was falsely charged with a Bronx burglary while serving time in the Putnam County Jail for violating probation.

In August 2014, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch sent a letter to city Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter and then-Police Commissioner Bill Bratton complaining about the “cottage industry” of filing baseless suits against the NYPD.

“Getting paid to sully the reputation of the officer who arrested you for breaking the law is almost too good to resist,” Lynch wrote.

Nothing came of the union chief’s gripe until the controversy exploded the following January, when The Post published a Page 1 exposé about $5,000 paid to Ruhim Ullah of Brooklyn, who sued over getting shot in the leg by a cop in 2010 — which the NYPD said happened when he refused orders to drop an 18-inch machete.

Ullah, now 27, has since been busted four more times, and currently is facing charges in the July 21 theft of two 24-ounce bottles of Corona Extra beer from a 7-Eleven store on the Lower East Side.

The data were quietly made public under terms of Local Law 166 of 2017, which de Blasio signed in September.

The legislation requires the Law Department to post on its website, twice a year, information about all suits filed against the NYPD during the preceding five years.

The Post found the online spreadsheet riddled with errors, including no entry for a $2.5 million settlement struck in 2014 with Sol Cecilia Reyes over the fatal police shooting of her son, Noel Polanco, during a 2012 traffic stop on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens.

The law covers only suits filed within the five-year period. So if one is filed previously but later settled, there is no record of it in the spreadsheet.

This includes the $41 million 2014 settlement with five exonerated men in the 1989 rape of a female jogger in Central Park and last year’s $75 million deal to settle a class-action suit alleging that cops issued 900,000 bogus summonses to meet quotas, because those cases were filed before the earliest date in the spreadsheet.

Also not covered — or listed — is a slew of hefty settlements arranged by city Comptroller Scott Stringer before any suits were filed over the cases.

Some involve crimes investigated by disgraced former Brooklyn Detective Louis Scarcella, who is suspected of fabricating evidence in about 50 cases.

The data show that misconduct suits filed against the NYPD have declined steadily from 3,075 in fiscal 2014 to 1,483 in fiscal 2018, a drop of nearly 52 percent.

When the numbers first started falling, experts pointed to the city’s record drop in crime — which has dramatically reduced interactions between cops and suspects — and to de Blasio’s rollback of the NYPD’s use of the stop-and-frisk policy shortly after taking office.

Stringer has also taken credit for preventing suits against the NYPD by negotiating settlements following the filing of notices of claim with his office, which is a prerequisite for suing the city.

A City Hall spokeswoman said that since 2016, when she said de Blasio’s policy went into effect, the number of suits against the NYPD that went to trial increased by 30 percent, showing the city is trying to get tough on frivolous claims.

“While the number of lawsuits continues to decline, we’re taking more cases to trial than ever before to fight for officers,” Hizzoner’s deputy press secretary, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, wrote in an email. “We’ve improved the city’s fact-finding process, filed more motions to dismiss cases and added resources and personnel to reduce settlements.”

Off-Duty Cop Pulls Gun on Man Buying Mentos; Police Union Condemns Fourth Amendment

Not a good weekend for relationships between officers and citizens

First: It’s hard to fathom what was going on in the mind of an off-duty Buena Park, California, cop when he decided to pull out his gun after mistakenly thinking a man was shoplifting a pack of Mentos. The man, Jose Arreola, had paid for them. The officer missed the exchange of money and only saw Arreola grabbing the mints and pocketing them and jumped to the wrong assumption.

The incident happened in March, but apparently is just now being publicized as Arreola retains a lawyer and is demanding compensation. Here’s the video:

Though the police wouldn’t comment on the story, the Buena Park Police Department posted a note from Chief Corey Sianez on Facebook:

The video of the incident clearly shows our officer drawing his gun, but not pointing it, at a subject he allegedly believed was committing a theft inside the mini-mart of a Chevron gas station in Buena Park. We were aware of this incident after it occurred and we immediately began conducting an administrative investigation into the conduct of the officer involved. The complainant also filed a formal complaint against the officer alleging misconduct and also retained an attorney. I want you to know that after I watched the video I found it to be disturbing, as I’m sure it was to you. However, because there is an ongoing personnel investigation and potential litigation pending against the city, I am unable to discuss the details of our investigation. I can definitely assure you that our investigation will be thorough and if the officer is found to be in violation of any policies and procedures, he will be held accountable. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

This response is notable for what it leaves out. Sianez blames his silence on the investigation and “potential litigation.” But even after all this is over, Arreola and the citizens of Buena Park probably won’t get any answers about this still-unidentified cop’s behavior. California state law deliberately conceals information from the public about police misconduct and what discipline officers face. As the law currently stands, we’ll probably never know what the authorities do about a cop who pulls his gun out because he thought he saw somebody steal mints.

There’s a bill in the state Senate in California to make public some investigation and discipline records involving police conduct, but it focuses on cases of actual use of force and gun discharges. So even if that legislation were enacted, Buena Park citizens concerned about this behavior probably wouldn’t get any answers.

Second: In New York City, a police union president’s over-the-top reply to another New York agency is less violent but probably no less disturbing. As an amusing way to connect with annual May the Fourth Star Wars cultural celebration, the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board tweeted this:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MayTheFourth?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MayTheFourth</a&gt; Amendment protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures. And if you feel your rights have been violated by an NYPD officer, file a complaint here: <a href=”https://t.co/85crBmm5PG”>https://t.co/85crBmm5PG</a&gt; <a href=”https://t.co/dD7vumSaux”>pic.twitter.com/dD7vumSaux</a></p>&mdash; NYC CCRB (@CCRB_NYC) <a href=”https://twitter.com/CCRB_NYC/status/992513580774887424?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>May 4, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Silly, but there was a whole host of tweets Friday trying to tap into the “May the Fourth” cultural moment. It was on point. Less focused was this absurdly furious response by the Twitter account of New York Police Department Sergeant Benevolent Association (SBA) President Ed Mullins:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>You are all a disgrace. You sit on your ass and target the NYPD all while growing up on the nipple of what’s easy. You have no clue what a NYPD officer does yet target us and disparage our integrity. One day you will dial 911 when evil is at your door and thank god for the NYPD. <a href=”https://t.co/8I00FD7hny”>https://t.co/8I00FD7hny</a></p>&mdash; SBA (@SBANYPD) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SBANYPD/status/992561992731852800?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>May 5, 2018</a></blockquote>
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So apparently just telling people how to file a complaint if they feel as though the police have violated their constitutional rights is too much disrespect for the SBA.

This is far from the first time we’ve seen such a bonkers over-the-top response from SBA. They’re the ones responsible for a video last year that went viral for all the wrong reasons, suggesting that criticism of the police is a form of “blue racism” in a video that misquoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have Dream” speech. I noted back then that they appeared to be objecting to a police sergeant even having to face trial for shooting a mentally ill woman in Bronx. (A judge acquitted the officer in February, and he has returned to work.)

The tone of the tweet here is similar. The SBA seems to object to the very existence of a process to hold officers accountable if they violate a citizen’s constitutional rights.

Scott Shackford|, reason.com, “Off-Duty Cop Pulls Gun on Man Buying Mentos; Police Union Condemns Fourth Amendment”, https://reason.com/blog/2018/05/07/off-duty-cop-pulls-gun-on-man-buying-men