The city must pay $4.15 million to Brian D. Martin, the man who cops sent falling four stories from the roof of a Gowanus Houses building during a purposeless police chase in 2009. Following a nearly three-week trial, a jury found plainclothes Brooklyn cops Alex Bakalis and Jose Cofresi at fault for the fall that broke Martin's back and heel, the New York Times reported. The paper summarized the fateful evening:
The events on Aug. 22, 2009, Mr. Martin said, began around 6 p.m. as he walked back to the Gowanus Houses after a haircut. He recalled that two men in a car yelled, "Hey, you, come over here."He kept going. When the men emerged with "guns pointing in my direction," he said, "I just ran, right away," not realizing they were officers.
He ran to the building where he had lived for two years, in a ground-floor apartment with his girlfriend, and went up to the roof. An arrest report said Mr. Martin "did jump from rooftop," damaging the air conditioner and causing it to fall.
What actually happened, the jury agreed, was that Martin was hanging from the edge of the roof, and one of the officers hit his fingers, causing him to lose his grip.
The officers arrested him after the fall and charged him with trespassing—in his own building—and reckless endangerment, presumably for putting their lives at risk by running to the roof. In their report they claimed they had seen a gun-like bulge in his waistband. He was unarmed.
The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office declined to pursue the charges. In the meantime, Martin was going through a long, painful medical ordeal and lost his apprenticeship in the sheet-metal workers union (he turned to selling crack for a time and got arrested). At civil trial, Cofresi admitted they lied in the arrest report about Martin jumping.
Cofresi has been the target of misconduct lawsuits before.
In one case, a man sued the city claiming Cofresi and another plainclothes officer approached him on the street in Gowanus in 2010 and demanded he put his hands on a car, that Cofresi beat him in the head as the partner twisted the man's fingers, and that they then arrested him on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges. At the precinct, the lawsuit claims, Cofresi beat the man further, in the groin and kidneys, and a third officer strip-searched him. He was let out hours later with a conditional dismissal of the charges. That lawsuit settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
In another case, a community organizer and gardener sued, saying that Cofresi and a partner falsely arrested him in Red Hook in 2008 on trumped-up charges of disorderly conduct and biking the wrong way. The arrest, the organizer claimed, was retaliation for advising the family of a man being roughed up by cops in a Red Hook schoolyard how to get in touch with a civil liberties organization earlier that day. The city settled that case for $17,500.
Cofresi is also one of 20 officers accused of involvement in the fatal shooting of Tyjuan Hill during a prostitution sting in Red Hook in 2012 and an alleged coverup. Officers claim that Hill led them on a chase, and that he pointed a gun at them, prompting Sgt. Patrick Quigley to shoot him once in the head. The lawsuit, brought by a surviving relative, claims the cops involved lied under oath and that there was "no legal justification" for the shooting. That lawsuit is ongoing.