A Brooklyn councilman has proposed a bill that would make it illegal for police officers to have sex with people in their custody, following an incident in which two officers, Eddie Martins and Richard Hall allegedly raped a young woman while she was handcuffed in their custody on September 15th.
Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, and Sea Gate, published a Medium post earlier this week condemning the incident, which allegedly began in the parking lot of a Chipotle in Coney Island.
"As details continue to emerge about what happened the night of September 15th, I remain extremely disturbed by this case, and the troubling implications it has for police-community relations," he wrote. "As the criminal investigation proceeds, however, we, as a community, need to have a conversation about the nature of sexual consent, and our expectations of both authority figures and victims of sexual assault."
Though it is illegal in New York State for, say, a prison guard to have sex with an inmate, it is currently not illegal for a law enforcement official to have sex with someone in their custody. The NYPD says "it is against department policy to have sex on duty," but if officers have "consensual" sex with someone in their custody before they get to the station hall, they are not technically breaking the law. Martins and Hall claim they had consensual sex with their victim, but as many have pointed out, someone cannot provide legal consent when under arrest.
"The reason you have Miranda warnings is precisely because of the coercive effect of being in custody," New York-based civil rights attorney Moira Meltzer-Cohen told The Intercept last week. "The idea that you can’t give knowing and voluntary consent to answering questions, but you could to sex would be risible if it weren’t so horrifically nauseating."
Treyger agrees. "What occurred was not sex," he told the Post. "What occurred was rape." His bill, which he plans to introduce to City Council in a month, seeks to make sex between a police officer and a person in their custody a misdemeanor. "Necessarily, the power dynamics between a trusted agent of our criminal justice system and an individual under supervision mean that no sexual consent can be given entirely free from coercion," he wrote on Medium.
The bill will eventually have to become state law to have effect, and while Treyger is pushing to enact it citywide, he has called on the NY State Legislature to include the law in the state Penal Code. But even without the law, Treyger says the police should know better.
We do not need a change in laws, however, to understand that what occurred was deeply, morally wrong. Regardless of legal outcomes, we know that it is wrong for two police officers to use their positions of authority to engage in sexual activity with a teenager. Everyone deserves to be treated with professionalism in the course of their interactions with the police; the abuse of power exercised by these two detectives rattles the foundations of positive police-community relations that the law enforcement community has been working to build. It does a great disservice to the good work of the overwhelming majority of police officers, by undermining public trust.
Martins and Hall have been stripped of their badges as the investigation into the alleged rape continues, as has their supervisor, Sergeant John Espey. The victim's attorney, Michael David, told Gothamist earlier this month that his client is anxious for justice to be served.
"[She]s] hysterical every day. It's becoming her worst nightmare, when she knows what they did to her and there's still no arrests," he said.