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NYPD Detective With a Shady Past Helped Lock Up a Pot Dealer For Federal Conspiracy

Jurors were barred from hearing about the eight civil rights lawsuits against Detective Jeremiah Williams.

Residents walk through the Eastchester Gardens housing complex in the Bronx, where the “largest gang takedown” in New York City history took place.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Last month, Carleto Allen, 23, was sentenced to six years in federal prison. Allen was one of 120 other defendants caught up in what authorities at the time called the “largest gang takedown” in New York City history. Jeremiah Williams, a veteran NYPD detective, was crucial to the prosecutors’ case against Allen because he was the only witness they had who could pin him with an illegal gun. At trial, jurors heard a lot about Allen’s history of  selling marijuana and associating with gang members in his neighborhood. But the detective’s own troubled record remained in the shadows.

Two years ago, NYPD officers and federal agents stormed the Bronx housing project where Allen sold drugs. Authorities, led by Preet Bharara, then the Southern District of New York’s U.S attorney, charged 120 people with federal conspiracy. The defendants were mostly poor, Black, and Latinx men who had grown up in and around public housing. As The Intercept reported, 111 of the 120 defendants had to rely on court-appointed attorneys and 110 took plea deals for lack of better options, according to a presentation by Babe Howell, a CUNY School of Law professor, and Priscilla Bustamante, a researcher. Allen was one of the few defendants who chose to go to trial.

In their opening statement in Allen’s 2017 trial, federal prosecutors said he was not a gang member. But they lumped him into the gang-conspiracy megacase by claiming he sold marijuana to members at a discount, which supposedly helped “profit the gang” through resales. Their federal indictment had charged Allen with conspiracy and selling drugs, but his most serious-sounding charge was for illegal gun possession.

This charge helped paint him to the jury as a “bad” guy who belonged in the conspiracy case, said Howell. “If you had just had ‘all he did is sell marijuana,’ I think the jury would have said, ‘give me a break,’” Howell said in a phone interview.

The feds’ evidence for that gun charge came from a guilty plea Allen made for attempted possession of a weapon in state court after a 2015 encounter with Detective Williams and NYPD officers. As the detective recalled in court on Nov. 8, 2017, he saw Allen smoking a “a marijuana cigarette” in a parked car while he was patrolling the neighborhood in plainclothes. He pulled up to the car Allen was in, grabbed the still-burning marijuana cigarette, restrained Allen in a “violent” struggle, and grabbed a gun that he said was in Allen’s pocket. Williams said this all happened before  other officers came to the scene.

Allen’s recollection of the encounter was very different. He alleged that Williams and other officers had assaulted him that day, to the point that bone was “sticking out” of his left hand. A doctor found he had fractures in four metacarpal bones in his left hand, according to a lawsuit Allen filed a month after the gang sweep.  

There was little hard evidence to back up Williams’s version of events. Though he did not mention this in his testimony, Williams didn’t just stumble upon Allen. Police had been told by a confidential informant beforehand that Allen had a gun on him, according to court documents. No fingerprints were found on the gun. DNA swabs were taken but never tested. Allen’s lawyer, Olubukola Adetula, told the judge he thought the gun may have been planted, according to court records. He believed the vehicle’s driver was not searched, nor was even basic paperwork done on the other people in the car.

“They didn’t register his name,” Adetula said of the driver. “They didn’t register his credentials of the registration of the vehicle. They just cut him loose,” he told the judge, arguing that “the responsibility for the weapon was transposed from that individual on to Mr. Allen.”

Allen now claimed that the gun was not his. According to Helene Hechtkopf, an attorney who represented Allen in federal court, he only pleaded guilty in state court because of what he said was ineffective counsel from his lawyer, who was trying to secure a reduced sentence. The gun possession claim came down to the word of a marijuana dealer versus that of a veteran detective.

Allen’s allegation that Williams had beat him up, however, echoed a string of excessive force and civil rights complaints against the detective. But the jury never got to hear about the many accusations in Williams’s past.

At trial, the jury got to hear Williams’s testimony that Allen had a gun. But federal prosecutors successfully argued in court that the jury should not hear about two substantiated complaints against Williams, one from the Civilian Complaint Review Board and one from the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Only around 10 percent of NYPD officers have ever received a substantiated review board complaint.

Moreover, the jury also was barred from hearing about eight settled civil rights lawsuits against Williams, according to court records. At trial, federal prosecutor Jessica K. Feinstein argued that the lawsuits, which included allegations of false imprisonment, excessive force, and malicious prosecution, did not impact Williams’s credibility, claiming that such lawsuits “are common” and were settled without any admission of guilt.

Asked about these arguments in court, Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, said in an email, “Our public filings to the court and on-record statements by our assistants speak for themselves.” The NYPD did not respond to The Appeal’s requests for comment.

The Appeal reviewed court documents about Williams’s two substantiated review board and internal affairs complaints along with the eight settled civil rights lawsuits filed against him, stretching from 2005 to 2016. In the lawsuits, Williams has been accused of taking part in numerous violent group assaults, including the smashing of a civilian’s head on an NYPD van window and the forcible stripping of a man and search of his anus. Settlements involving Williams have cost the city over $250,000 since 2005. Here are some of the most detailed allegations:

‘Forcibly held Mr. Gumbs against the door and removed his clothes’

On Dec. 15, 2005, Jeremiah Williams and a fellow officer, Aurclien Jeanty, got out of an unmarked car and stopped Bernard Gumbs, a Bronx resident, according to a 2007 lawsuit. They stopped him without identifying themselves or presenting their badge numbers, Gumbs said. The duo patted him down on the street, and then suddenly “either Williams or Jeanty began to search underneath” Gumbs’s clothes, placing his “hands inside Mr. Gumbs’ anus,” according to the complaint. Gumbs claims that when he resisted their efforts to search him this way, he was arrested. At the precinct, Gumbs said he told the man he thought was the captain about the incident. But instead of getting help, he was allegedly forced into the bathroom by Williams and Jeanty, where one of them stripped him and another, having put on a latex glove, began to place one or more of his fingers in his anus. Two additional officers entered the bathroom. One allegedly cuffed Gumbs while another began punching him in the ribs. According to Gumbs, as he was being beaten, either Jeanty or Williams again forced his fingers into Gumbs’s anus, causing him excruciating pain. Officers allegedly found cocaine in their search. He was taken to the hospital, then back to the precinct, then to booking. The Internal Affairs Bureau questioned him at booking about the incident, showing him photos of white officers. Gumbs said the officers were African American, told them what happened, and then chose to end the discussion. He was charged with resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance. Yet all charges were dismissed.

According to court records from Carletto Allen’s case, Williams is known in the neighborhood as “assman,” a nickname he acknowledged. Allen’s defense asked about whether he got this name because he is known to put on gloves, tell civilians to drop their pants, and stick his hands “in their ass.” Williams denied this was the origin of his nickname, saying it was a name given to him by individuals “doing illegal activity such as crack sales, possessing firearms.”

‘Slammed plaintiff’s head into the window of an NYPD prisoner van’

On May 14, 2007, Aldean Pitters was arrested in the middle of the afternoon. After Pitters was handcuffed, an NYPD officer allegedly slammed his head into the window of a prisoner van, shattering the window. The officers, who Pitters later sued, then allegedly lifted him by his handcuffs, while others watched. The suit does not name which NYPD officer did the alleged head-smashing. Williams and Alberto Pizarro, however, are the only two named officers in the suit, in addition to 10 Jane and John Doe officers.

‘No search warrant had authorized the officers to enter that apartment’

In 2007, Williams and a team of police officers broke into a suspect’s apartment and seized over 30 pounds of marijuana, according to a 2017 court filing by federal prosecutors. Williams and the team did this without a search warrant, resulting in several complaints from the suspect, the report said. Because no warrant had been authorized, the Civilian Complaint Review Board sustained a charge against each of the officers, including Williams. A detective in charge of the investigation was later indicted for perjury by a Bronx grand jury for making false claims  to justify the unconstitutional entry.

‘Frisked him without legal authority’

In 2007, Williams and other officers stopped a man that Williams suspected might be carrying a firearm, based on a supposed bulge in his pocket, according to a 2017 court filing by federal prosecutors in Allen’s case. As Williams “initiated an encounter” with the man, he fled, prosecutors said. Detective Williams caught up with the man, frisked his pockets, and found an electronic device, not a gun. The suspect complained that Williams had frisked him without legal authority, a charge that the  complaint review board substantiated. The board also found that Williams had not prepared a report about the stop and frisk, as was then required by NYPD rules.

‘About 10 other officers came and were all over plaintiff and grabbed, shoved, and kneed him as he tried to protect himself’

Per his complaint, Hanson was arrested on Nov. 5, 2015, after his girlfriend called the police, alleging domestic violence. Hanson was brought to a cell in the Bronx’s 47th precinct, where a few other defendants were waiting. Hanson said  a white detective pulled the waistband of his sweatpants out and looked inside. When Hanson moved back, shocked, the detective allegedly grabbed him and slammed him face-down on the floor, ripping off his clothes and leaving him naked. The detective allegedly hit, punched, and kicked him all over, causing injuries to his eyes, shoulder, back, and ribs. Then about 10 other unknown officers came in and grabbed, shoved, and kneed Hanson. Jeremiah Williams is listed as a defendant in the suit, though his exact role is not explained in the complaint. Hanson was taken to Montefiore Hospital, then brought back to the precinct. The officers then claimed to have recovered marijuana from him and allegedly provided false statements and information to Queens County prosecutors, who then charged him with unlawful possession of marijuana, harassment, and attempted assault. His mother posted his $4,000 bail. After seven months of court appearances, on June 23, 2016, all the charges against Hanson were summarily dismissed.

In the end, Allen was convicted for a firearms offense, racketeering conspiracy, narcotics conspiracy, and narcotics distribution. On June 20, 2018, he was sentenced to serve six years in federal prison.

Williams’s testimony helped seal Allen’s fate. “It was the only testimony about the gun possession that the government submitted,” noted Hechtkopf, the defense attorney. “This resulted in a much higher sentence than he would have gotten without the 924(c),” referring to Allen’s federal gun charge.

Howell, the CUNY law professor, argues that without the jury’s trust in this officer,  Allen may have walked free on most of the counts. “The Williams testimony created a sense he’s in with the bad guys. Without the gun I think the jury would have possibly tossed all but the selling marijuana.”

Howell argues the jury should have heard these allegations because an officer with so many substantiated complaints and brutality lawsuits could have easily made false statements in the past. “In any case where there’s an excessive use of force, the police officer never writes down ‘I beat him up,’ they write down a lie,” she said.  

Howell believes that Allen’s defense team should have pushed more for Williams’s paper trail. “A malicious prosecution, that’s what it means, wrongful arrest, none of that happens without inaccurate paperwork sworn to by the cop,” she said, referring to the lawsuits’ allegations. “So there had to have been substantial evidence that he lied on paper in these cases.”

Williams was a pivotal witness for the prosecution, but the jury was prevented from hearing about his substantial misconduct record. That lack of transparency tainted the case, argued Howell. “Seems to me, for a jury deciding ‘Do I believe that kid or the cop who said he had the gun?’” she said, “they should know something about the cop.”