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NYC has paid $50 million so far this year in police misconduct payouts, Legal Aid says

The Gothamist, Michelle Bocanegra, Sep 8, 2023

New York City paid out more than $50 million to settle claims of police misconduct in the first seven months of this year, with the median amount already higher than the last five years, according to an analysis from the Legal Aid Society.

The price tag covered the resolution of more than 400 lawsuits between January and late July, based on the organization’s analysis of city data. Data on payouts related to law enforcement misconduct is disclosed biannually under local law.

Among the payments this year was a roughly $415,000 settlement to resolve allegations in June from state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and former Assemblymember Diana Richardson against the city and multiple NYPD officers at a 2020 protest over the death of George Floyd.

In their lawsuit over police behavior during the New York protests, Myrie and Richardson accused officers of using pepper spray and controversial crowd control tactics like kettling at a Brooklyn demonstration they both attended. Officers arrested Myrie at the protest “even though he had done nothing wrong,” the complaint reads.

Their descriptions echoed others offered by protesters that summer, some of whom also sued and received payouts from the city.

“This culture of impunity cannot continue, and we implore recently appointed Commissioner Edward Caban to prove to New Yorkers that NYPD will finally take the steps needed to truly hold officers accountable who infringe on the rights of our clients,” Jennvine Wong, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society who focuses on police accountability, said in a statement on Friday.

Read More: The Gothamist

Case that would change how NYPD responds to protests is reopened after police union objects

The Gothamist, Jessy Edwards, September 11, 2023

A federal judge has reopened negotiations in a case that will decide how the NYPD responds to protests after the police officers’ union argued that a recent settlement may endanger officers.

The settlement, reached Tuesday, sought to resolve lawsuits brought by Attorney General Letitia James, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union and individuals who claimed that police violated their rights during citywide Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

The deal included an agreement by the NYPD to create a new oversight committee that will assess how officers act at protests and a new approach to policing demonstrations that prioritizes protesters’ First Amendment rights.

However, the Police Benevolent Association opposed the settlementThursday, citing safety concerns for police officers and others.

Judge agrees to hear union’s arguments

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon agreed to hear the PBA’s arguments, filing an order vacating her approval of the settlement and giving the union until Sept. 29 to file its motion in opposition to the deal.

The PBA told Gothamist it had specific objections to some of the new protocols the NYPD had agreed to.

Under a new “tiered approach,” the NYPD would standardize how officers are deployed to demonstrations, and require them to use de-escalation tactics before deciding whether to send more officers to the scene, the settlement states.

However, this staggered approach “doesn’t reflect the realities of how demonstrations operate” and could slow officer response times, causing a dangerous situation, the PBA said.

Under the settlement, the NYPD would also try to accommodate demonstrations that temporarily block traffic, streets or sidewalks, unless critical infrastructure was at risk. Police would also need approval from high-ranking supervisors before they could arrest anyone for offenses including riot and incitement to riot.

However, the PBA spokesperson said requiring high-ranking supervisors to approve arrests during a protest could endanger officers and the public. He added: “Allowing protestors to block traffic or obstruct public streets or sidewalks creates risks to police officers’ safety and public safety.”

Read More: The Gothamist

Former NYPD officer testifies that he punched homeless woman because he was ‘angry’

The Gothamist, Samantha Max, Aug 31, 2023

A former NYPD officer on trial for repeatedly punching a homeless woman in a Bronx jail cell in 2019 testified on Thursday that he “lost control” after the woman spit on him.

Luis Marte was fired last year after the police department found that he used excessive force in the incident. The Bronx district attorney’s office indicted him on assault and official misconduct charges with a maximum sentence of 16 months to four years on the top charge against him. Prosecutors also said he lied about what happened on police paperwork. Justice Ralph Fabrizio — not a jury — will decide the case.

In court Thursday, Marte told Fabrizio that he was monitoring the cells in the 44th Precinct in the Bronx when officers from the city’s Department of Homeless Services brought in a woman from a nearby shelter. When she arrived at the precinct, she was yelling so much that a man detained in one of the cells tried to climb out and hit her, Marte said.

Marte said the woman was escorted to another cell in the back, where she continued to scream. He said she called him a racial slur, a “bald f—” and a “fat f—,” but that he remained calm because he was used to being called names as a police officer.

“Just another day,” he said.

Then, Marte said, the woman tried to spit on him while he was closing the cell door. He said he told her sternly not to spit on him — that he was an NYPD officer and he would treat her differently than the officers from the shelter system.

Read More: The Gothamist

Cop City Protesters Charged With Racketeering As Georgia Takes Hard Line

THE GUARDIAN, Richard Luscombe , September 6, 2023

Some of 61 defendants charged also face money laundering and domestic terrorism charges for environmental protests

Dozens of activists who oppose a controversial police and fire training facility in Georgia known as Cop City have been charged with racketeering, appearing to confirm fears from civil rights groups that prosecutors are stepping up an aggressive pursuit of environmental protesters.

A total of 61 people – most not from Georgia – were indicted for violating the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act last week, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Some of the defendants face additional charges of money laundering and domestic terrorism, the newspaper reported.

In July, a coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote to the Department of Homeland Security decrying tactics used in authorities’ surveillance of the environmental protesters, and their use of the label “domestic violence extremism” for opponents of the $90m facility under construction on 85 acres of the South River Forest near Atlanta.

The letter warned of the “dangers of … vague, overbroad, and stigmatizing terms like ‘domestic violent extremist’ and ‘militant’ to describe individuals who may be engaged in protected first amendment activity”.

The US constitution’s first amendment protects Americans’ rights to free political speech and assembly.

The most recent indictment was filed by the Georgia attorney general’s office in Fulton county last Tuesday, the AJC reported, and follows months of often violent protests at the site and in downtown Atlanta.

In June, Sherry Boston, district attorney for DeKalb county, in which Cop City is located, announced she was withdrawing from criminal cases tied to protests, citing differences with Georgia’s Republican attorney general, Chris Carr, over how they were being handled.

At that stage, more than 40 people had been charged with domestic terrorism following incidents in which fireworks and rocks were thrown at police. Police vehicles and construction equipment were also vandalized.


Half the Police Force Quit. Crime Dropped.

NEW YORK TIMES, July 5, 2023 Radley Balko  

The resignations came after Golden Valley, Minnesota hired its first Black police chief to begin addressing issues of racial profiling.

In a staggering report last month, the Department of Justice documented pervasive abuse, illegal use of force, racial bias and systemic dysfunction in the Minneapolis Police Department. City police officers engaged in brutality or made racist comments, even as a department investigator rode along in a patrol car. Complaints about police abuse were often slow-walked or dismissed without investigation. And after George Floyd’s death, instead of ending the policy of racial profiling, the police just buried the evidence.

The Minneapolis report was shocking, but it wasn’t surprising. It doesn’t read much differently from recent Justice Department reports about the police departments in ChicagoBaltimoreClevelandAlbuquerqueNew OrleansFerguson, Mo., or any of three recent reports from various sources about Minneapolis, from 20032015 and 2016.

Amid spiking nationwide homicide rates in 2020 and 2021 and a continuing shortage of police officers, many in law enforcement have pointed to investigations like these — along with “defund the police”-style activism — as the problem. With all the criticism they are weathering, the argument goes, officers are so hemmed in, they can no longer do their job right; eventually they quit, defeated and demoralized. Fewer police officers, more crime.


Executive Trading in Health Care Stocks

PROPUBLICA, Ellis Simani and Robert Faturechi, June 24, 2023

Secret IRS records reveal dozens of highly fortuitous biotech and health care trades. One executive bought shares in a corporate partner just before a sale, and an investor traded options right before a company’s revenues took off, netting millions.

The case was a bold step for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2021, the agency accused Matthew Panuwat of insider trading. Five years earlier, he had learned that his own company, a biopharma operation called Medivation, was about to get acquired. But instead of buying shares in his employer, he bought options in a competitor whose stock could be expected to rise on the news. The agency says he made $107,000 in illicit profits.

For the first and so far only time, the SEC filed a case that accuses an executive of using secret information from his own company to trade in the stock of a rival. “Biopharmaceutical industry insiders frequently have access to material nonpublic information” that impacts both their company and “other companies in the industry,” Gurbir Grewal, the commission’s director of enforcement, warned in announcing the case. “The SEC is committed to detecting and pursuing illegal trading in all forms.”


Three Atlanta Activists Arrested, Home Raided Over Bail Fund

Unicorn Riot, Ryan Fatica, May 31, 2023

Atlanta, GA — Around 9 a.m. on Wednesday, three members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund were arrested during a raid by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Atlanta Police Department and charged with money laundering and charity fraud.

Marlon Kautz, Savannah Patterson, and Adele Maclean were arrested at The Teardown Community, a hub for mutual aid and activism as well as a residence where the three lived. All three have been booked into the notorious DeKalb County Jail, according to the GBI.

“The Atlanta Solidarity Fund has existed for seven years with the sole purpose of providing resources to protestors experiencing repression,” said Atlanta Solidarity Fund members in a press release. “We ensure their rights are respected through the criminal justice system and we provide access to representation to assist them with navigating the legal system.”

The raid comes about three months after members of the organization, including Kautz, announced publiclythat they had received information that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and state prosecutors were planning on charging them under Georgia’s state-level RICO statute. 

The raid also comes just days before the Atlanta City Council is set to vote on the fate of the massive police training facility which community journalists recently revealed will be far more costly than initially announced, as well as a major upcoming mobilization for Stop Cop City activists, scheduled for June 24 through July 1.

Read More: Unicorn Riot

No charges yet for man who put Black homeless New Yorker in chokehold on the F train

Gothamist, Matt Katz, Samantha Max, May 3, 2023

The death of a Black man who appeared to be suffering from mental illness on an F train on Monday is stirring outrage after a white man who had placed him in a chokehold wasn’t charged by the NYPD.

Dozens gathered on the Broadway-Lafayette subway platform Wednesday to protest the death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely. Chants of “Black lives matter” and “the homeless matter” echoed through the station, where Neely had been picked up by emergency workers and taken to a hospital, where he died, police said.

The incident is under continued investigation, according to the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Neely died by compression of the neck, or chokehold, according to the medical examiner’s office, which ruled the death a homicide.

Neely was a Michael Jackson impersonator who had performed on subway platforms for years. On Monday afternoon he was riding the subway, complaining of hunger and thirst, according to journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez, who witnessed the incident and posted a video depicting part of the encounter on his Facebook page.

Vazquez wrote on Facebook that Neely yelled that he was tired — that he didn’t care if he went to prison and that he was ready to die. He said Neely took off his jacket and aggressively threw it on the floor of the subway car. Then, Vazquez wrote, a passenger on the train put Neely in a headlock.

Vazquez’s video shows the passenger, who has not been identified, on the ground with his arms wrapped around Neely’s neck. This went on, according to Vazquez, for 15 minutes. At one point Neely’s eyes closed as his legs flailed, and eventually he stopped moving entirely.

Read More: Gothamist

People held in isolation at Rikers awarded $53 million in compensation from NYC

Gothamist, Matt Katz, April 19, 2023

The city of New York will pay as much as $53 million to 4,413 people who were held in harsh, isolated conditions at Rikers Island and Manhattan jails between 2018 to 2022, according to a settlement agreement filed in federal court on Wednesday.

The agreement, which must be approved by a judge, stems from a class-action lawsuit filed by former detainees alleging that the city Department of Correction violated both city regulations and the U.S. Constitution when it held them in cells where they lacked access to natural light, communal gatherings, and programs like educational classes.

“They were unable to move freely, as pretrial detainees have a right to do,” said Alex Reinert, a Cardozo Law School professor and one of the attorneys on the case. He said the detainees alleged to have violated jailhouse rules were also not afforded due process before being punished by being placed in isolated conditions.

The case, Miller v. City of New York, involved detainees held in restrictive isolation at two jails on Rikers and one unit at the former Manhattan Detention Complex.

Some of the conditions allegedly experienced by the detainees would be described as “solitary confinement” under internationally accepted humanitarian standards. But that term has widely different interpretations, as Gothamist has previously reported. Detainees and members of the oversight agency the Board of Correction say people are sometimes held in solitary-like conditions, including shower cages, for longer than a day at a time. Last year, a man was isolated for more than 30 hours before his death.

Still, the correction department’s commissioner has said that solitary confinement does not exist in any form in the jails.

If the judge approves the agreement, those affected would be notified within two months in order to file claims. They will be eligible to receive $400 for each day they were held in those facilities, or $450 if they were younger than 22 or diagnosed with a serious mental illness at the time. The average amount that each person receives will be about $9,000, the attorneys said.

Watchdogs say that conditions restricting movement at Rikers Island persist. Under questioning at a Board of Correction meeting last month, Commissioner Louis Molina acknowledged that officers put some detainees into restraint desks, which involve leg shackles and handcuffs, during group activities like classes and recreation. On WNYC last year, Molina promised the restraint desks would no longer be used.

Over several years, city officials and advocates for detainees had developed a new system for more humanely housing those accused of violating rules while locked up, giving them more out-of-cell time. But that new system was put on hold last year due to supposed staffing shortages with the blessing of the multimillion-dollar federal monitorwho oversees the city’s jails.

Spokespeople for the Department of Correction did not respond to requests for comment.

A bill banning solitary confinement in city jails is stalled in the City Council after a hearing in the fall that was preceded by raucous dueling protests between advocates for detainees and correction officers.

At a rally last year in support of the bill, Candie Johnson, a former detainee at Rikers, said she spent more than 1,000 days in solitary at the jail complex.

Read More: Gothamist

The Mayor’s Irresponsible New Police-Union Contract Demands Closer Scrutiny

Indypendent, JOHN TEUFEL Apr 12, 2023

Massive pay hikes and continued abuse of overtime pay send cop salaries soaring while other city agencies are starved of funds.

By now you’ve probably heard — NYPD officers are a big step closer to becoming members of the same 1% they work for and protect. They aren’t quite there yet — the 1% is really rich! But thanks to the new contract deal Eric Adams has struck with the PBA, members of the force with at least five years on the job could easily see themselves spring into the top 10% of earners nationwide if they are willing to hit the gas on overtime.

Let’s crunch some numbers. The new deal, which runs retroactively from 2017 to 2025, sees officers with five and a half years on the job hit a base salary of $130,000, a pay bump of about 50% from current five-year officers. Overtime, which for NYPD officers is any time worked over 40 hours a week, gets paid out at time-and-a-half. Even with the present, much lower salaries, Legal Aid’s Law Enforcement Lookup tool reveals that thousands of cops have managed to top $50,000 in annual overtime at some point in the last three years, and many have gone way above that, earning $70,000 or $80,000 or more on top of their normal salaries.

Let me now stretch the limits of my abilities and try to do some math to show you how overtime at a higher wage is much more valuable than overtime at a lower wage. If you assume an officer is making $84,000 a year, which is approximately the current five-year officer salary, that works out to around $40 an hour (not counting vacation and sick time). Overtime at that rate is $60 an hour. The new five-year salary, on an hourly basis and again without including vacation and sick time, is $62.50 (incredibly, more than the current overtime rate). That means the new overtime rate for five-year cops will be a whopping $93.75 an hour, a 50% increase. An officer who pulled $50,000 in overtime under the old contract will now make $75,000 in overtime alone for the same number of hours, on top of their newly bloated salary. (It’s easy for cops to create unnecessary overtime – officers themselves call it, in a somewhat visually disgusting euphemism, “milking it.”)

Cops routinely retire in their mid-40s with a gold-plated pension that is juiced by their ability to rack up overtime hours in their final three years on the force. 

You have to make $173,176 a year to make it into the top 10% of earners in the United States. This new contract will place a lot of rank-and-file cops deep into that ten percent.

Cops already enjoy arguably the sweetest perks in the New York City civil-servant firmament. After 22 years of work, they retire with a pension worth 50% of their annual salary, which is calculated to include their overtime pay. (They can retire at 20 years with a slightly smaller pension.) Even under the current contract, retired NYPD officers can go on to become quite well-off by taking up second careers, often in lucrative private security positions, where they are able to formalize their informal prior job of protecting rich peoples’ stuff. In the past, this generous retirement program (which sees some officers retire with full pension at age 43) was in theory meant to make up for lower pay. Now that officers will earn more than most other civil servants in the city, it is simply a gratuity, another example of how the PBA has New Yorkers over the barrel.

And of course, NYPD police enjoy a perk that could be described alternately as sweet or mind-numbingly horrifying — they can commit egregious misconduct in the line of duty, up to and including murder, without facing any consequences.

It is both a cliché and false to say that budgets express our priorities “as a city” — they express the priorities of the small number of people who vote them into law. But boy oh boy, are those people’s priorities whacked. Teachers with five years on the job and a Masters degree earn $71,290 a year, more than $50,000 less than cops under the new deal. And cops don’t have to have a Masters, or a Bachelors for that matter. Teachers aren’t eligible for overtime. Even if you prorate that pay to factor in summers off — that is, if you increase that teacher’s salary by 25% to account for June through August off — they come in over $30,000 less than cops. And they have to deal with demanding kids all day, whereas cops get to play Candy Crush on their phones with their pals. (Believe me, with clearance rates like this, they ain’t out there solving murders.) Also, I don’t know of any cops who have to buy their own guns, as teachers often do school supplies.

As an attorney, when I read about the latest Eric Adams-created outrage, my mind automatically goes to a simple question: How is he legally able to do this? In this case, I wondered whether Adams has the sole legal authority to obligate the City to this massive payout, estimated to cost NYC taxpayers $5.5 billionover and above the massive sums we already hand over to the NYPD. Can he just…do that?

Read More: Indypendent