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What “the largest gang takedown in New York City history” tells us about gang indictments


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: What “the largest gang takedown in New York City history” tells us about gang indictments

  • Alabama prisoners say they’ve been punished for trying to reduce violence

  • Deputies ‘tortured, then killed’ man at Georgia jail on ‘Taser Tuesday,’ attorneys say

  • The Appeal Podcast: Policing public health

  • Federal prosecutors accuse judge of obstruction of justice for helping man evade ICE

  • A new database on police misconduct nationwide

In the Spotlight

What “the largest gang takedown in New York City history” tells us about gang indictments

Three years ago this week, officers with the NYPD and multiple federal law enforcement agencies descended on the Bronx to knock down doors and make mass arrests at the Eastchester Gardens public housing project and nearby homes. They came with helicopters and armored vehicles. When the pre-dawn raid concluded, 120 people had been arrested. Nearly all were young Black or Latino men, and they were indicted in what federal prosecutors called “the largest gang takedown in New York City history.” [Alice Speri / The Intercept] See also This week, The Appeal released ‘Raided’, a documentary by Simon Davis-Cohen that looks at the Bronx 120 raid and the NYPD’s pivot from its unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk to a new era of “precision policing.”

In a report released this week, law professor K. Babe Howell and doctoral student Priscilla Bustamante of the City University of New York looked at the mass indictment of the Bronx 120. They examined the prosecution to answer two questions. The first is, “Were those swept up in the Bronx 120 takedown ‘the worst of the worst,’ or was the indictment overbroad?” The second is, “Was the process afforded each defendant charged in the Bronx 120 takedown consistent with the fundamental principles of our criminal justice system?” They also ask a third question to fuel additional research, about whether the use of gang RICO and conspiracy indictments raises concerns. [Howell and Bustamante / The Bronx 120 Prosecution]

Howell and Bustamante looked at publicly available information to understand who the Bronx 120 were. What they found was that, far from being the “worst of the worst,” “51 of the defendants … were affirmatively not alleged to be gang members.” Despite then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s statement the day of the raid about “allegations of multiple murders, attempted murders, shootings and stabbings, committed in furtherance of federal racketeering conspiracies,” none of the 120 people arrested was charged with murders, shootings, stabbings, or any violence. Thirty-five of the convictions that resulted were based on marijuana sales. [Howell and Bustamante / The Bronx 120 Prosecution]

In her reporting on the raid, its aftermath, and the new report, Alice Speri of The Intercept notes that while prosecutors used the allegations of violence to successfully argue against pretrial release for 101 of the defendants, what people were actually charged with was “some combination of federal conspiracy charges, two different narcotics charges, and a firearms charge.” Of the 91 defendants charged with the firearms charge, only 22 were convicted on those charges. And “two-thirds of the defendants were not convicted of any violent crime at all.” [Alice Speri / The Intercept]

Howell and Bustamante highlight the pretrial detention of those charged in their conclusion that “fair process is not afforded in these mass indictments.” The indictments also fail to specify alleged conduct which means defendants and defense counsel are operating in the dark when they make arguments for release or prepare for trial. Furthermore, several people were prosecuted in federal court for conduct that had already been the subject of prosecutions in state court. [Howell and Bustamante / The Bronx 120 Prosecution]

The Bronx 120 indictments also raised questions about other troubling aspects of gang prosecutions. People who were not alleged to be gang members and people who had not engaged in violence were included in gang prosecutions. “What criteria are gang units and prosecutors using to build these cases?” ask Howell and Bustamante. As wrongful convictions are slowly starting to attract attention in prosecutors’ offices, they ask whether mass indictments, such as that of the Bronx 120, produce wrongful convictions. And finally, “What alternatives to building large cases against underprivileged youth of color are available?” [Howell and Bustamante / The Bronx 120 Prosecution]

One of the people arrested that day in 2016 was actually 40 miles away in Connecticut. Police arrived at Kraig Lewis’s door at the same time as the raid in the Bronx and took him away in handcuffs. Lewis had grown up in the Bronx. He had moved away and was living in Connecticut with his girlfriend and son. He was nine credits away from getting his MBA. [Alice Speri / The Intercept]

At Lewis’s first court appearance in Manhattan, a judge told him and dozens of his co-defendants “that they could face the death penalty.” Lewis’s bail was initially set at $1.5 million. After 22 months at the Metropolitan Detention Center, away from his girlfriend and son, and where he saw a friend stabbed to death, Lewis pleaded guilty to “conspiring to distribute marijuana and once having owned a gun,” Speri reports. The original plea offer from prosecutors had been to a 12-year sentence. Lewis refused that. By the time they came back with five years, the time in jail had taken its toll and he was willing to take that offer. It was the judge in his case who said it was too much, calling what had happened to him an “injustice” and releasing him on time served. [Alice Speri / The Intercept]

Across the country, gang policing and prosecution criminalize huge swathes of people, particularly Black and Latinx boys and young men. There have been important recent victories against the use of gang injunctions in Los Angeles and notable revelations about gang databases in Chicago and elsewhere. But in too many places, including New York, it is easy for law enforcement to label someone a gang member but difficult, even impossible, for someone to know if they have been labeled a gang member and then, to fight the label.

For Kraig Lewis, the Bronx 120 case took him off the path of education and family life that he had been on. He now has a felony conviction, is on federal probation, and is unable to get the financial aid he needs to complete the MBA. Under the terms of his probation, he cannot leave New York. He is also forbidden from interacting with his co-defendants, with whom he was incarcerated for nearly two years and who are among the only people he knows in his old neighborhood. As Speri described it,  Lewis “lost two years of his son’s childhood, his life in Connecticut, and the chance at a degree he had worked so hard to earn. Perhaps worst of all, he lost his dreams and his self-confidence.” He told her, “Everything I imagined for myself … I have nothing.” [Alice Speri / The Intercept]

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Corrections
Facebook page.

Alabama Prisoners Say They’ve Been Punished For Trying to Reduce Violence. A wave of hunger strikes hit Alabama prisons as DOJ released a report calling the facilities “unconstitutional.” [Raven Rakia]

Deputies ‘Tortured, Then Killed’ Man At Georgia Jail On ‘Taser Tuesday,’ Attorneys Say. Antonio May, a 32 year-old father of three, died in September in the Fulton County Jail after deputies pepper-sprayed and shot him with a stun gun. [Aaron Morrison]

The Appeal Podcast: Policing Public Health. With Leo Beletsky, contributor to The Appeal and an associate professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University. [Adam H. Johnson]

Stories From Around the Country

Federal prosecutors accuse judge of obstruction of justice for helping man evade ICE: In what the Massachusetts attorney general condemned as “a radical and politically-motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling has brought charges against a state court judge and a former court officer, accusing them of helping Jose Medina-Perez evade ICE after a court appearance last year. State Attorney General Maura Healey pointed to the alternatives available in cases of judicial misconduct and criticized the “misuse of prosecutorial resources and the chilling effect” Lelling’s actions would have. Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts contrasted the charges with U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s response to the Mueller Report. “In contrast to Attorney General William Barr’s famously narrow view of what constitutes obstruction of justice—at least when it comes to President Trump—the Department of Justice has now charged a state judge and court security officer based on a theory of obstruction that is shockingly aggressive.” [Travis Andersen, Matt Stout and John R. Ellement / Boston Globe]

A new database on police misconduct nationwide: USA Today, more than 100 affiliated newsrooms, and the Invisible Institute in Chicago have teamed up to create an enormous publicly available database of police disciplinary records from the past decade “obtained from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors, police departments and sheriffs.” The result includes records on at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct. Among them are tens of thousands of cases of serious misconduct, including allegations of excessive force, rape, child molestation and other sexual misconduct, and domestic violence. Over the past decade, at least 85,000 police officers across the country have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct. Some have been the subject of multiple investigations—nearly 2,500 officers have been investigated on 10 or more charges. [John Kelly and Mark Nichols / USA Today] See also In New Hampshire, a judge has ruled that the state Department of Justice must make public a secret list of 260 police officers who have been found guilty of misconduct.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

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