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Civil rights advocates in the city note, however, that there has been a cost to the new strategy, revealed by steady citizen complaints against more aggressive NYPD officers during the past several years and continuing impunity for many officers who commit human rights violations despite the recent reorganization of both the civilian review board and the police department’s internal affairs bureau. In August 1997, after the alleged torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by police officers made national headlines and outraged city residents, the anti-crime record of the mayor and police department was tarnished. In uncharacteristic fashion, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir condemned the officers implicated in the incident as well as those who reportedly did nothing to stop it or report it. In the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board’s (CCRB) semiannual report for the first half of 1997, African-Americans and Latinos filed 78 percent of complaints against the police. The police force is 68 percent white. During the independent CCRB’s first three-and-a-half years, only 1 percent of all cases disposed of led to the disciplining of a police officer, and out of 18,336 complaints, there have been just one dismissal of an officer stemming from a CCRB-substantiated case. If the studies by civil rights groups and the Mollen Commission are any indication, officers who commit abuses are not being dealt with adequately.

In that incident, after protesters allegedly threw items at mounted police officers attempting to clear the park, police reacted by beating anyone nearby with their nightsticks, including uninvolved restaurant patrons and business owners. In the end, administrative charges were presented in seventeen cases, with officers disciplined in thirteen of them.

Officers primarily from the 30th, 9th, 46th, 75th and 73rd precincts were caught selling drugs and beating suspects. Concluded Cawley, “They [residents] hate the police. You’d hate the police too if you lived there.”

What emerged was a picture of how everyday brutality corrupted relations among police officers and city residents. Officer Michael Dowd testified, “Brutality is a form of acceptance. It’s the other officers begin to accept you more.” In reaction to the Mollen Commission report, then-Police Commissioner William Bratton stated that if officers behaved properly, he would back them absolutely, but if they used unnecessary force, “all bets are off.” The police unions continue to oppose stricter disciplinary measures and the commission’s call for changes in the police union’s response to allegations of corruption and brutality, such as emphasizing integrity, reportedly have not been heeded.

There is often a racial or ethnic component to police abuse cases in New York City, with many incidents also fueled by language barriers and miscommunication in the diverse city. In the CCRB’s January – June 1997 report, African-Americans and Latinos filed more than 78 percent of complaints against the police, while 67 percent of the subject officers were white.

Minority-group activists claimed that the shooting demonstrated racial bias because the white officer assumed the black officer was a criminal.

In May 1997, a grand jury declined to indict the officers.

Civil Complaint Review Board

When former New York Mayor David Dinkins supported an independent civilian complaint review board in September 1992, police protested violently and engaged in actions, according to a police department report, that were “unruly, mean-spirited and perhaps criminal.” An officers’ protest, sponsored by the police union, involved thousands of officers demonstrating at City Hall, blocking traffic to the Brooklyn Bridge, and shouting racial epithets; current Mayor Rudolph Giuliani participated in the protest.

Some officers involved in the protest’s offensive acts were disciplined, and the police commissioner stated that the nature of the demonstration “raised serious questions about the department’s willingness and ability to police it’s self.” As police were leaving the protest, several off-duty officers, all in civilian clothes, assaulted a man on the subway who had stepped on one of the officer’s feet. Six officers then reportedly beat and kicked him, and he suffered a broken jaw; several witnesses went directly to the police station to complain. In July 1993, the CCRB was reorganized and made independent from the police department. The CCRB publishes reports with statistical data on the number, type and disposition of complaints. CCRB staff report that they engage in extensive community outreach to inform residents of their rights and about the CCRB’s operations.

The CCRB claims this new practice has expedited investigations. If a criminal investigation has begun, the CCRB defers to the relevant district or U.S. attorney.

Once CCRB investigators complete a full investigation, a case review panel, made up of three board members or the full board, reviews the findings. The latter are cases that are not investigated or kept on the subject officer?s record but where the subject officer is required to discuss the complaint with a CCRB staff member who instructs the officer about proper procedures.

Fully investigated complaints made up approximately 25 percent of the cases disposed of by the CCRB between July 1993 and December 1996. The CCRB’s regular reports contain information about officers who have been the subject of repeated complaints. For example, there were 126 police officers with four or more complaints lodged against them from July 1, 1995 to June 30, 1997. The report notes that about 40 percent of those officers are assigned to Brooklyn commands, with officers assigned to the 75th Precinct making up 8 percent of all officers receiving four or more complaints during this time period.

The board forwards its recommendation to the police commissioner, who is not bound by the CCRB’s findings. If the CCRB recommends disciplinary sanctions against an officer, the police commissioner must report back to the CCRB on the action taken. The CCRB receives a monthly report from the police department, advising the board about police action on CCRB referrals. Outside police-abuse experts have expressed concern that the internal police department procedures have all but guaranteed that even cases sustained by the CCRB do not lead to adequate discipline, or any at all.

Nor is there oversight of CCRB’s own competence. In many cases, one complainant may file a complaint detailing more than one allegation against an officer. Further, while the police department must notify the complainant of the final outcome of the complaint, it provides no information about whether or how the officer was disciplined when the board has substantiated the complaint.

The CCRB reports that CCRB and the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigations are often concurrent. CCRB is entirely complaint-driven. Since the CCRB became independent from the police department in 1993, the total allegations received are as follows:

1993: 5,487 (excessive force: 2,173)

1994: 7,648 (excessive force: 3,079)

1995: 8,776 (excessive force: 3,528)

1996: 8,869 (excessive force: 3,139)

1997: 7,183 (excessive force: 2,626)

Between the initiation of more aggressive policing policies in 1993 and 1996, complaints against the police rose by 56 percent. Following the August 1997 Louima incident, there was a sharp increase in the number of citizen complaints filed with the CCRB. The apparent confusion over the number of complaints stemmed from a February 1997 change in procedures that led to confusion between the CCRB and the police department. Since the CCRB became independent from the police force in 1993 until December 1996, it received 18,336 complaints against police officers, yet only one officer was dismissed as a result of a CCRB investigation. According to press reports, of 972 cases of alleged brutality and other misconduct since 1993 confirmed by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the department disciplined just 215 of the officers (only one resulting in the officer’s dismissal).

City and police officials have expressed a lack of confidence in the CCRB. NYPD Commissioner Howard Safir has explained the department’s inaction in CCRB-substantiated cases by stating that the CCRB investigations are of a low quality. Following the Louima case, the City Council held hearings on the CCRB in August 1997. City Council members reportedly criticized the CCRB as inefficient and ineffective. The council members urged the CCRB leaders; in the face of police department resistance to accepting and acting on the board’s findings, to at least provide information about patterns and trends in violations around the city. Many police-abuse experts in New York City believe the mayor has too much control over the CCRB’s composition and, as a consequence, may unduly influence its performance. The CCRB has long been disrupted by political disputes among board members and between board members and investigators. Hector Soto, executive director of the CCRB until February 1996, reportedly left his post due to disputes with the police department and CCRB’s chair over high-profile cases. In mid-1996, a senior investigator and others reportedly left the CCRB after they found an officer responsible in a high profile fatal shooting but the board did not substantiate the case. Some police abuse experts in the city have suggested that the NYPD’s Advocates’ Office, responsible for administratively prosecuting officers accused of serious abuses investigated and substantiated by the CCRB at departmental trials, should be abolished. The bill’s sponsors hoped officers would use the new review board to report corruption in the police ranks. Incidents

Case of Abner Louima: In the early morning hours of August 9, 1997, police officers arrested Abner Louima, a legal Haitian immigrant, outside a Brooklyn nightclub following altercations between police and club goers. During the trip to the station house, officers allegedly stopped twice to beat Louima, who was handcuffed. One of the officers who provided information was transferred out of the 70th Precinct and reportedly provided with security in case of retaliation by fellow officers. After the incident, the commanding and executive officers of the 70th Precinct were reassigned, and another fourteen officers reportedly were placed on modified assignment or suspended. On August 18, 1997, U.S. Attorney Zachary W. Carter announced that the Justice Department would initiate a preliminary “pattern or practice” civil investigation of the police force. Two other officers were charged with beating Louima during the drive to the police precinct, and racial bias charges were subsequently added against all four.

When the ball hit a parked police car more than once, one of the officers in the car, Francis X. Livoti, reportedly became angry and arrested Anthony’s brother, David Baez, for disorderly conduct. Baez’s family reportedly filed a $48 million lawsuit against the city.

The victim was black the officer was white. Robert D. McFadden, “Police officer has yet to give his account of fatal shooting,” New York Times, December 28, 1997. Even Mayor Giuliani, who generally has defended police officers when they have been accused of brutality, stated, “There does not appear to be an explanation for it.”

Officers reportedly suspected Dom?nguez and his friends had stolen the car. After the case received attention, when the district attorney’s office brought charges against Rodr?guez, police officials all expressed outrage over his conduct. The CCRB found that the detectives had used excessive force, but when its report was sent to the police commissioner, he ignored the CCRB’s substantiation of the charges. Officer Davitt reportedly shot and killed Whitfield, who was unarmed. Despite public pronouncements that the department is taking allegations of excessive force seriously, it appears that the police department is still not disciplining officers after the CCRB has substantiated complaints. During 1996, the police department disposed of 187 CCRB-substantiated complaints; there were only six guilty findings after a departmental trial, with ten found not guilty. Critics of the police department claim this decline reflects police officials’ efforts to ignore the CCRB’s findings altogether.

According to police-abuse experts in the city, the difficulty Human Rights Watch encountered in obtaining information is typical.

According to police department figures, there has been a decrease in the number of shootings by officers, and the city’s force shoots suspects less than in many other large police departments. Twenty individuals were killed by shots fired by officers in 1997.

After a December 1997 fatal shooting by an officer who was involved in more shootings than any other officer on the force the department began monitoring officers involved in shootings. Commissioner Safir and civil rights activists in the city reportedly were surprised that the department’s firearms discharge board did not already monitor officers involved in multiple shootings.

According to the New York City Law Department, “…Concerning notification procedures where a lawsuit alleges police misconduct, the Law Department does not have a formal procedure for notifying IAB or the CCRB of such lawsuits.” In correspondence with Human Rights Watch, the IAB’s chief states that, “in situations where an officer is served court papers for civil litigation involving excessive force, the officer must submit to his or her commanding officer a request for indemnification by the City of New York. The IAB did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s questions regarding whether civil lawsuits against officers are compiled as part of the department’s officer monitoring system to identify “at-risk” officers, but according to other sources, few lawsuits are even recorded in an officer’s personnel records or are disciplined, while taxpayers cover the cost of misconduct.

In May 1995, a grand jury concluded that no criminal charges should be filed against the officer involved, and the officer was not disciplined. Officer Livoti was the third officer dismissed after standing trial, although he was acquitted. A Force Monitoring Program utilizes computer-tracking capabilities to identify officers who seem to be using excessive force repeatedly. A Civilian Complaint Reduction Program notifies commanders when an officer has generated a high number of complaints, and a Resisting Arrest Charge program highlights officers who lodge a high number of “resisting arrest” charges. In one case, the department did not punish an officer but the city argued that it should not have to represent the same officer in a civil lawsuit stemming from a beating by the officer’s partner because the officer had broken departmental rules by providing false statements and other misconduct relating to the beating. Officer Frank Bolusi was Officer Gerard Pitti’s partner when Pitti encountered Victor Medina and his friends in Brooklyn in February 1992. In the opinion of the judge presiding over the criminal case against Officer Pitti, Officer Bolusi had provided an “astounding” account of the incident.

Officer Bernard Cawley testified to the Mollen Commission that he never feared that fellow officers might turn him in:

The inculcation of complete loyalty begins at the police academy, according to some officers. Commissioner Safir did implement a policy change in December 1996 allowing him to dismiss officers if a police administrative judge finds that they have lied. But in an October 1997 New York Times article, Commissioner Safir’s claim that he had dismissed eighteen officers for making false statements was undermined by internal police documents showing that few officers were dismissed for that offense alone; most who were dismissed faced other charges as well.

In February 1997, two young men were shot and seriously injured by officers in upper Manhattan. Civil Lawsuits

According to press reports, the city paid about $70 million in settlement or jury awards in claims alleging improper police actions between 1994 and 1996. The New York City Law Department reports that police misconduct, described as assault/excessive force, assault and false arrest, shootings by police, and false arrests (as categorized by the city’s Law Department), cost city taxpayers more than $44million for fiscal years 1994-95; this works out to an average of almost $2 million a month for police misconduct lawsuits alone. Between June 1996 and June 1997, the city settled 503 police misconduct cases, taking only twenty-four to court, where it won sixteen. As noted above, the Law Department states that, “…concerning notification procedures where a lawsuit alleges police misconduct, the Law Department does not have a formal procedure for notifying IAB or the CCRB of such lawsuits.” In approximately 90 percent of the lawsuits, according to press reports, the city’s Law Department and the police department determine that the officer was acting within the scope of his or her duty, and the lawsuit is not recorded in the officer’s personnel file. The city does not represent about 10 percent of officers named in lawsuits, who face disciplinary proceedings.

Lawyers bringing civil lawsuits against police officers told Human Rights Watch that they often do not recommend that their clients file a complaint with the IAB because the information provided is often used against the client. Officers themselves do not have to pay personally in civil lawsuits; the city almost always indemnifies the officer and pays. In 1984, the city agreed to pay into a police union “civil legal defense fund.” When the police department fails to take appropriate disciplinary actions against these officers and repeat offenders, there is an additional cost in terms of public confidence. Because the police department is secretive regarding how it handles allegations of police misconduct, and the CCRB does not provide specific information about individual cases, the disclosure of information during civil trials in New York would be a large step toward accountability. Papa and Rampersant, Jr. were reportedly shot at and beaten by police in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in March 1986. After the incident, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) attorney reportedly advised the officers involved not to cooperate with investigators, and the officers apparently were never disciplined, despite costing the city at least $7.5 million.

After public protests, the two officers were indicted on assault charges and placed on restrictive duty, but a judge acquitted them. According to press reports, the officers were never disciplined.

Off- duty Incidents

The Mollen Commission report noted, “Police unions and fraternal organizations can do much to increase professionalism of our police officers…. Unfortunately, based on our own observations and on information received from prosecutors, corruption investigators, and high-ranking police officials, police unions sometimes fuel the insularity that characterizes police culture.” Criminal Prosecution

Only three city officers have been convicted for on-duty killings since 1977. Each borough’s district attorneys are quite different in their approach to police brutality cases, with some district attorneys much more likely than others to bring a case against an accused police officer, leading to an arbitrary application of the laws block-by-block in the city.

Police officials claimed Carasquillo faced the officer who shot him and took a “gun stance,” but the city’s medical examiner found that he was shot in the back. The driver of the car, according to the police, attempted to drive off as an officer questioned him, allegedly dragging the officer along. In early 1998, federal prosecutors announced their intent to pursue Livoti and the 70th Precinct officers involved in the Louima case. The CCRB’s semi-annual reports provide detailed information about each precinct’s rate of complaints.


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