Two lawyers with the taxpayer-funded Bronx Defenders knowingly participated in a rap video advocating the killing of police officers, the NYC Department of Investigation announced today. The video, called "Hands Up," was released on YouTube last month, and features lyrics such as "For Mike Brown and Sean Bell, a cop got to get killed," and "Time to start killing these coppers." The video also shows two men pointing guns at the head of an actor dressed as an NYPD officer.
According to the DOI, attorneys at The Bronx Defenders "participated in the video, and allowed the organization’s offices to be used in the video, despite knowing that it advocated the killing of police officers." The report also criticizes the organization’s Executive Director, Robin Steinberg, for failing to discipline the staff after learning of their conduct, as well as lying to officials about the Bronx Defenders' involvement.
The Bronx Defenders has two contracts with the city totaling $20 million in taxpayer funds, intended to cover criminal defense services for the indigent. According to emails obtained by the DOI, one of the organization's attorneys, Ryan Napoli, said he "loved" the song but was concerned about the use of the word "cocksucker."
On the day that Napoli and another lawyer, Kumar Rao, appeared in the video, the producers showed them previously-shot footage of scenes, including one where individuals portraying NYPD officers were taking someone into custody. Rao insists they were not shown images of the singers pointing guns at the head of a man dressed as police officer.
Their scenes were filmed at the Bronx Defenders office on a Sunday, their day off, but the report found that they helped coordinate the shoot in their capacity as public defenders.
The DOI investigation concluded that Rao and Napoli exhibited a "profound lack of judgment" in participating in the video, and accuses them of "serious misconduct." Steinberg, the director, is also accused of "gross mismanagement."
The report was forwarded to the de Blasio administration for review, and the mayor issued this statement today:
“The Department of Investigation’s findings are deeply disturbing. Any endorsement of violence against police officers is completely unacceptable and will absolutely not be tolerated. Keeping New York the safest big city in the country requires that we are vigilant about the security of the nation’s finest police force and the communities they are sworn to protect.
Today’s report signals a serious failure to take this role seriously. We rely on entities like the Bronx Defenders to play an essential role in the criminal justice system by safeguarding the rights of indigent clients. The Administration has demanded Bronx Defenders take immediate action in response to the findings of DOI. Unless those actions are fully responsive to the serious issues raised here, the City will take all legal and contractual actions available to it.”
On its website, the Bronx Defenders says the group "abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance. We have always been an organization that is committed to preserving life, dignity and respect for all people. The Bronx Defenders never approved the music video 'Hands Up' and never saw it before it went online. We deeply regret any involvement with this video."
PBA President Pat Lynch said in a statement, "It is clear that Bronx Defenders who knowingly participated in this despicable video calling for the murder of police officers have violated their oath as officers of the court and should be disbarred as a result. There has always been adequate numbers of lawyers who are willing and able to represent the indigent and who do not harbor ill will against police officers."
You can read the full findings of the report here.