New York City has agreed to pay out as much as $75 million in taxpayer money to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit regarding hundreds of thousands of bogus summonses that lawyers alleged were the product of the NYPD's quota system.
The proposed settlement hit the Manhattan federal court docket this afternoon and still needs a judge's sign-off. If approved, the agreement would set aside $56.5 million for recipients of 900,000 criminal summonses. The tickets were ones issued by police officers between 2007 and 2015 that courts later threw out for being legally insufficient—these constitute about a quarter of all summonses in that period. The remaining $18.5 million would go to attorneys' fees. Under the terms, the city would reach out to each of the recipients of the bogus summonses by mail, and class members would be limited to $150 each per police encounter (multiple summonses from one encounter would garner an amount capped at $150).
"We have achieved a landmark settlement in a civil rights case that advances the cause of justice," said Elinor Sutton of the firm Quinn Emanuel, one of those representing the 30 named plaintiffs in the case. The falsely ticketed New Yorkers first sued in 2010.
In the proposed agreement, the city cites efforts it and the state have made to clamp down on quotas. The same agreement explicitly denies the existence of quotas, as police officials have for decades, despite substantial documentation of consistently structured quota systems across precincts over the course of years.
The agreement cites a 2010 state law outlawing retaliation against officers who fail to meet quotas, a 2013 NYPD patrol guide revision doing the same, and the official pulling back from the unconstitutional use of stop, question and frisk in response to a federal judge's ruling in another class-action lawsuit that same year. Also touted are the recent revision of the criminal summons form to require officers to provide more information, rolled out in February of last year as part of an initiative called Justice Reboot, and laws giving officers the option to treat common low-level offenses such as public urination as non-criminal.
The city has about 1.5 million open arrest warrants dating back to 1980, and about a third of criminal summonses issued annually turn into arrest warrants when those ticketed fail to appear in court.
Going forward, the NYPD is supposed to send department-wide messages reiterating the policy against quotas; go over the issue in training; create new structures for Internal Affairs Bureau investigations complaints, in an apparent nod to retaliation against past IAB whistleblowers; and require officers provide cards with their shield numbers and command posts upon request.
Asked if he was frustrated to include yet another official denial of the quota system in the settlement, plaintiffs' lawyer Gerald Cohen said, "It’s generally a practice when a settlement is reached that there is no acknowledgment of fault. However, I think the terms, both the size and magnitude of the settlement, speak volumes of how the city viewed the issues raised in the complaint."
Zachary Carter, corporation counsel for the city, told the Times in a statement that the settlement was "in the best interests of the city," and that "This settlement reflects the remarkable progress the NYPD has made to ensure that summonses are properly drafted and include sufficient details to document probable cause."
The settlement would be among the largest city payouts in history, almost twice what the city paid to the Central Park Five, whom Donald Trump still wants the state to kill even though they were acquitted of rape and paid extensively for their trouble, but less than the $98 million not including legal fees paid to black and Hispanic firefighters and would-be firefighters who alleged discrimination by the FDNY.
A separate class-action lawsuit by a dozen black and Hispanic NYPD officers is underway, with the cops claiming, backed in some instances by surreptitious recordings, that bosses and union reps demanded ticket and arrest quotas and retaliated against those who complained. The city settled a similar lawsuit by whistleblower Bedford-Stuyvesant officer Adrian Schoolcraft last year for $600,000. Schoolcraft's fellow officers had him involuntarily committed in Jamaica Hospital's psychiatric ward six days after he blew the whistle.
NYPD brass suspended Schoolcraft without pay and charged him internally after he exposed the misconduct of top cops at his precinct. He filed for retirement in December 2015.
The city spent $228.5 million settling and paying out judgments for police misconduct lawsuits in the last fiscal year, which was the latest peak in a dozen years of escalating NYPD lawsuit costs. With this latest big-ticket settlement nearing finalization, 2017 is shaping up to be another expensive year for taxpayers.