What Happens To Cops Who Lie?
Each week, the Fair Punishment Project monitors the news in New York, talks to local journalists and advocates, and share the most important stories with you through our weekly New York newsletter. Here’s here our big story from this week, looking at police accountability and the NYPD. Be sure to subscribe to our New York newsletter here.
Cops lie. Every so often, they get caught doing it. So what happens when they do it in the courtroom? In New York City, not a whole lot. In this inaugural edition of our weekly NewYork newsletter, we examine a recently-completed trial where the NYPD offered false statements, and how a new interpretation of a state law is keeping the NYPD’s disciplinary records under wraps.
Judge acquits Black Lives Matter activist in NYPD prosecution case.Following the conclusion of a bizarre trial, where the NYPD itself was prosecuting an arrest it had made instead of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, a judge “ripped police witnesses for recalling events that were disproved by video.” After reviewing surveillance footage, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Stephen Antignani told the NYPD lawyer that the events captured were “totally different from what your officers, who on first blush came across quite credibly, what they told me happened.” While the District Attorney was supposed to be keeping tabs on the NYPD’s handling of the case, which was being done under a special arrangement where the NYPD would handle some summons prosecutions, the worst case scenario, where the NYPD would purposely mislead a judge, all with the blessing of its legal department, appeared to have played out. [Stephen Rex Brown / Daily News] This becomes especially problematic when it involves the prosecutions of protesters, where the NYPD has made several “untrustworthy” statements and withheld vital evidence from prosecutions to establish probable cause for an arrest. “A prosecutor should be thinking about investigating those officers who didn’t tell the truth on the witness stand in front of the judge,” said Gideon Oliver, a lawyer for the BLM activist.
NYPD Investigating Officers’ Alleged Misstatements in Court. But has the NYPD ever really been held accountable for making false statements in court? During a panel discussion on police officer testimony last night at the New York City Bar Association, Lawrence Byrne, the Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters at the NYPD, said that the NYPD was conducting an internal investigation into the testimony, and has requested that the Manhattan DA do so as well. [Andrew Denney / New York Law Journal] The experience of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and Louis Scarcella, a detective whose testimony was vital in at least seven wrongful convictions, and perhaps dozens more, suggests that imposing accountability for wrongdoing is unlikely. Despite sordid details of coercion and false statements, Scarcella was found to have “broken no laws” by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in recent exonerations, although the office says its investigation is still ongoing.
Prosecutor Recommends Loss of Vacation for Officer in James Blake Case. Even if the NYPD were to hold officers accountable for their false statements, those investigations and resulting disciplinary actions are now shrouded in secrecy, thanks to a decision by the de Blasio administration to reinterpret state law, shielding disciplinary records of police officers from public view. Late last month, a rare public disciplinary hearing for James Frascatore, the police officer who tackled tennis star James Blake, ended with the prosecutor requesting the loss of ten vacation days for the use of “excessive force.” Whether that request is heeded by NYPD or the officer faces any discipline whatsoever will remain secret. [Ashley Southall / New York Times] Frascatore is now suing Blake for defamation.
He Excelled as a Detective, Until Prosecutors Stopped Believing Him. But not all police officers who lie are escaping any sort of repercussions. Two NYPD detectives were indicted in February for lying about arrests they had made and the circumstances under which they happened. “There is lying going on on a regular basis,” Richard Emery, the former head of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, told the New York Times when discussing the indictments. Both detectives are staying on the force while the criminal cases against them play out. During the same event at the City Bar Association, Lawrence Byrne admitted that “that 73 officers have ‘been fired or forced out of the department in the last five years for either perjury or making a false statement,’” which points to a much larger issue than the NYPD brass would care to admit. [Joseph Goldstein / New YorkTimes]
What Happened to Police Accountability? The Mayor’s Not Saying. As Mayor Bill de Blasio coasts to re-election, a central plank of his first campaign is conspicuously absent — any attempts at police reform. As columnist Ginia Bellafante writes, the mayor has remained quiet through the departmental trial of Frascatore, and has been satisfied to let the NYPD police itself. The Right To Know Act, which would make NYPD officers identify themselves while detaining individuals and inform citizens that they have the right to refuse search without probable cause, has been stymied by the de Blasio administration, even though it has the overwhelming support of the City Council. Bellafante writes, “there is almost no other issue in which history is likely to judge the mayor of America’s largest city with a more exacting pen than the matter of police accountability. And if his record of the past four years isn’t improved over the next four, the evaluation is destined to be unkind.” [Genia Bellafante / New York Times]
NYPD Detectives Accused Of Kidnapping, Raping Woman In Coney Island. A 19-year-old Brooklyn woman claims she was raped by two Brooklyn detectives in a police van in September. The NYPD says it’s investigating the matter “internally.”