top stories

N.Y.P.D. Misconduct Settlements Cost $500 Million Over 6 Years

New York City has paid more than $500 million in police misconduct settlements over the past six years, including nearly $115 million in 2023, according to an analysis of city data released by the Legal Aid Society on Thursday.

Fewer lawsuits are being settled each year, the society found, but the median payout has more than doubled over that period, rising from $10,500 on average in 2018 to $25,000 last year.

A growing number of such settlements in recent years have resulted from lawsuits filed by people after their criminal convictions were vacated by the courts. Many of those convictions dated to the 1990s, when soaring crime rates led New York City law enforcement agencies to pursue arrests at all costs. Those affected were overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic.

A city Law Department spokesman said on Wednesday that there had been an increase in convictions being reversed and that settling the suits arising from those reversals avoided protracted litigation and provided justice to people who had been wrongfully convicted.

The New York Times reported last year that one police detective, Louis N. Scarcella, had cost the city and state $110 million in settlements involving 14 people whose convictions he had helped secure and that were later overturned. Mr. Scarcella, who has been accused of concocting false witness testimony and coercing confessions in dozens of cases, has not been criminally charged.

Jennvine Wong, a Legal Aid staff attorney with the organization’s Cop Accountability Project, said that many factors could be contributing to what she called the “staggering amount of money” the city has spent on police misconduct settlements in recent years. The settlements, she said, come as the city is “pouring money into policing, and violent policing, rather than investing into public services and social safety nets.”

In November, the city agreed to pay $17.5 million to a man who was exonerated in 2021 after spending over 20 years in prison for two Queens murders he did not commit.

The man, George Bell, and two others were convicted in the 1996 killing of a check-cashing store owner in East Elmhurst and an off-duty police officer working there as a security guard. Mr. Bell was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but a judge threw out his conviction and those of the other men.

In 2022, the city paid $135 million in settlements stemming from 971 lawsuits, the society said in the analysis released on Thursday. That was the highest total in five years, and it was driven by several payouts over $10 million, including one to Muhammad A. Aziz, whose conviction in the assassination of Malcolm X was vacated after he spent two decades in prison. (The society reported a 2022 figure of $121 million last year, based on city data at the time. The new, higher figure is based on updated data.)

One factor fueling the increase in payouts more recently involves complaints stemming from the protests over the police killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd in 2020, Ms. Wong said.

Last year, the city agreed to pay $13.7 million to settle a federal class-action suit brought by protesters who said the police had violated their rights during demonstrations in May and June of that year.

Patrick Hendry, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, said that it was “unfair to use lawsuit payouts from decades-old cases as a measure of how New York City police officers are doing our job today.”

“Even in more recent cases, the city frequently chooses to settle even though police officers have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Hendry said. “Often, police officers aren’t even notified of those settlements and have no opportunity to clear their names.”

The data on misconduct payouts released by the city’s Law Department doesn’t account for all police settlements in 2023. The totals are likely to be “substantially higher” because the data does not include cases that were settled by the city before a lawsuit was officially filed, according to Legal Aid. In 2022, the city paid nearly $184 million, primarily for personal injuries, but also property damage, according to the city comptroller’s office.

Complaints against police officers are rising, according to an annual report from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an oversight agency. There was a “significant increase” in such complaints last year, according to the annual report. The board said it had received 5,550 complaints last year — a 10-year record and a 50 percent increase from the 3,700 cases it received in 2022.

When the Police Department brings internal charges, the ensuing administrative trials can take years to be decided. Lawsuits against the city can also take years to resolve. The settlements paid out last year arose from 801 lawsuits, the Legal Aid analysis found; some of those suits were filed as far back as 2019.

Source link