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New York City Civil Rights Law Blog

4 Bronx narcotics cops reassigned, accused of faking warrant info

Three members and a former supervisor of the NYPD’s Bronx Narcotics Division have been pulled from street duty as the result of an Internal Affairs Bureau misconduct probe. One of those detectives -- whose online moniker is “PistolPete” -- is also the single most-sued officer in the NYPD. Since 2006, PistolPete has faced 28 lawsuits and cost the city $884,000 in settlements.

According to a New York Daily News investigation, there are scores of cases alleging false arrests by PistolPete and crew. The charges were thrown out, but people were left injured or facing job and housing problems. Others claim PistolPete used questionable information to justify brazen mass-raids.

The most recent lawsuit was brought in November by a 23-year-old man who claims PistolPete and other detectives broke down his door and falsely arrested him and his friends. They had a warrant -- for a different apartment.

Rikers warden, 2 others chastised for homeless vet's heat death

“They arrested him and took him to a jail to die,” said the mother of Jerome Murdough, a 56-year-old veteran Marine who was found dead in his cell at Rikers Island on Feb. 15. Reportedly, a faulty heating unit sent the temperature in Murdough’s cell soaring to over 100 degrees. A city official has been widely quoted that he “basically baked to death.”

He died a scant eight days after being arrested for trespassing in a housing project stairwell. In a tragic irony, the homeless, mentally-ill man was trying to shield himself from the cold.

According to the Associated Press, Murdough’s psychiatric medications may have made him especially vulnerable to heat-related illness. Yet although the sweltering heat was obvious, the correction officer assigned to check in regularly on Murdough reportedly left him unattended for hours.

Murdough suffered from mental illness, abused alcohol, and was intermittently homeless, but he had a family who loved him. They want, at the least, for the Department of Correction to acknowledge its responsibility.

“We want justice,” said his sister.

DOE: School-to-prison pipeline for minorities starts in preschool

As we’ve discussed before on this blog, school suspension rates are disproportionately high among minorities, the poor, and kids with disabilities for the same infractions committed by other kids. As we’ve also discussed, research has demonstrated deep racial bias in arrest rates, even when ethnic groups commit crimes at roughly similar rates.

The two issues are closely related because, statistically, the more often kids have negative contact with police, the more likely it is they will drop out of school, have criminal records, and be arrested and/or incarcerated as adults. Civil rights and education groups call this the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

That pipeline begins early. A new study by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has just revealed that racial profiling in school discipline apparently begins as early as preschool.

Deep racial bias proven in who's arrested for marijuana possession

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union released a blockbuster report called “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” An immense analysis of arrest data from both the FBI and the U.S. Census revealed profound racial bias in who gets arrested for marijuana possession in the U.S.

The report established that, nationwide, someone is arrested for possessing marijuana every 37 seconds -- and that person is 3.73 times more likely to be African American than white, despite clear evidence that the two groups consume marijuana at roughly equal rates. In the state of New York, the racial profiling is even more pronounced. Here, appallingly, African Americans are 4.52 times more likely than whites to be arrested for the offense.

Exonerated of 1995 murders, men claim crooked cops framed them

Wrongful conviction is never supposed to happen, and it’s always an immense tragedy. Unfortunately, we now know that six innocent people were wrongly convicted of murder, and each spent nearly 18 years in prison before being exonerated last year.

How could this happen to six completely innocent people? For them and for us all, justice requires an answer.

The answer all too clear, several of the exonerees say. Two Bronx NYPD detectives maliciously and deliberately framed them.

So far, five exonerees have filed federal civil rights lawsuits, and they have evidence to back up their claims. Those say they can prove that the detectives coerced witnesses, hid evidence and lied to get them convicted. Worse, the real killers were left free to commit additional violent crimes.

A rebranded stop-and-frisk? Bratton signals intentions, part 2

As we discussed in part one of this post, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton recently explained his views on the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy to WBUR Boston. Bratton acknowledged that he and Mayor de Blasio are committed to reducing the number of stop-and-frisk incidents -- but not to ending the practice. Instead, Bratton rebranded the policy as “stop, question and frisk.”

Bratton contends that stop-and-frisk is a legitimate policing technique among law enforcement nationwide and that without it “you’d have anarchy.” He also claimed that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Terry v. Ohio, the 4th Amendment case spelling out when and why police may lawfully stop and frisk people.

A rebranded stop-and-frisk? Bratton signals intentions, part 1

For months we’ve been following the twists and turns of New York City’s stop-and-frisk issues.

As we discussed in our February 7 post, the efforts that are underway to reform the use of stop-and-frisk tactics by police involve a complicated interaction between policy goals and the people responsible for implementing them.

In this two-part post, we will take note of a recent revealing interview granted by one of the key players in the long-sought overhaul of stop-and-frisk, police commissioner Bill Bratton.

Security cameras and civil rights: case shows effect of cameras

"I am a sketch book," Picasso famously said decades ago.

If he were painting now, perhaps he would amend his statement to "I am a sketch book who may be on a security camera."

In this post, let's pick up the thread we have developed in previous posts about how security cameras can help protect against civil rights violations.

Using DNA evidence to challenge wrongful conviction: a NYC case

Every wrongful conviction case is inherently tragic.

When someone is sentenced to prison for a crime they didn't commit, it does not only abruptly interrupt the normal flow of human life. It also sets up an ordeal behind bars of unpredictable duration.

Fortunately, the emergence of DNA evidence has opened an avenue of attack on wrongful imprisonment that didn't exist before. In this post, we will discuss a recent New York City case in which the murder convictions of two men who have been in prison for more than 20 years have been vacated.

Stop-and-frisk update: new mayor moves new policy forward

Governing is about putting ideas into action. But in a complex political system with multiple centers of power, implementing a proposed policy usually does not happen in one fell swoop.

Consider Mayor Bill de Blasio’s steps toward reining in overly aggressive stop-and-frisk policies by the New York Police Department (NYPD).

In this post, we will discuss how the mayor is trying to deliver on campaign promises to reform the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics, which were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge last August.

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