By the end of July, New York City had already spent more than $67 million on police misconduct payouts for the year, according to a report released earlier this summer. That total puts the city on track to spend far more on lawsuits against NYPD officers this year than any other year in recent memory.

Gothamist has spent the past month digging into that report, to see what’s driving the large sum of lawsuit payouts so far this year. We found four multimillion-dollar settlements account for about 70% of the payouts — three for alleged misconduct from decades ago.

Many of the other payouts stem from more recent cases. A Legal Aid Society analysis shared with Gothamist found that a handful of officers were named in multiple lawsuits settled against the city this year. Some officers were named in as many as six cases this year, and even more in years past. Those same officers were often praised for their work, receiving awards for “meritorious” and “excellent” police duty, according to their NYPD profiles. At least one detective named in multiple lawsuits settled this year has been dismissed, according to the department.

Gothamist reached out to the unions that represent the current and former officers named in the lawsuits, as well as the city law department. Neither responded to requests for comment at the time of publication. In an emailed statement, the police department said that some of the officers had been assigned to “extremely active commands” that led to “increased activity” — noting that one former detective had made more than 1,000 arrests during his decades with the department.

“Nevertheless, the NYPD carefully analyzes allegations in civil lawsuits and the corresponding evidence to assess the merits of cases,” a spokesperson said in an email. “Not all lawsuits filed have legal merit but the ones that do can be valuable tools we use to improve officer performance and enhance training or policy, where necessary.”

The police department also noted that even though payouts are high so far this year, the number of notices of claim — the paperwork submitted in New York City before filing a lawsuit — has been declining for years, citing a 46% decrease between fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2021.

Still, advocates say more needs to be done — especially for allegations so serious that they cost the department millions of dollars. Molly Griffard, a staff attorney in the law reform and special litigation unit at the Legal Aid Society called the NYPD’s argument that lawsuits often stem from high arrest numbers an “excuse.”

“That record just shows something is wrong there and that these very same officers who maybe are interacting with the public at a higher rate than their peers are also a huge liability,” Griffard said.

She said it’s also concerning that officers frequently named in lawsuits also often receive awards from the department.

“It certainly sends a message to other NYPD officers that this is the path you can follow to be awarded, commended and to do well,” she said.

Highest lawsuit payouts this year:

Samuel Brownridge v. City of New York and Detective Ray Medina: $13,000,000

Samuel Brownridge was 19 years old when he was arrested for a murder that he has always maintained that he did not commit. According to his lawsuit, he was working at the time, taking classes to earn his GED, and had just walked his 3-year-old son to daycare when police apprehended him on charges that he killed a man he had never even met. Brownridge ended up spending 25 years in prison before a state court vacated his conviction in 2020, finding he had “met the heavy burden of establishing factual evidence.”

“My 20s, my 30s and half of my 40s are gone,” he said in court, according to his lawsuit. “I sit in my jail cell every night waiting for this day while others went home to their families, knowing the system failed. … To many of you this may look like a victory, but as I am before you today I cannot help but see all the loss.”

Brownridge’s story brought Judge Joseph Zayas to tears.

“Judges are not supposed to cry in court,” he said, adding, “As the administrative judge I do believe that it is important that I say how sorry we are for the miscarriage of justice, the grave injustice that occurred in this courthouse a quarter of a century ago.”

Brownridge’s civil suit against the city alleges that systemic breakdowns led to his arrest and conviction, including prosecutorial misconduct and faulty detective work by Ray Medina, who led the homicide investigation. According to his LinkedIn, Medina left the department in 2002 to work the Department of Homeland Security.

Brownridge’s attorney, Bruce Barket, said in an interview that “no agency is perfect,” but that he hopes the case will push the city to do a better job of hiring and training its police officers.

“The bigger picture hopes for Mr. Brownridge, for us, and I think for the city of New York and its citizens, is that the department and the city put in place procedures, policies and supervision so that these kinds of things don’t happen,” Barket said. “There’s no amount of money that can compensate Sam for the time he’s lost in his life and the events that he’s missed. So, what we want to do is not have these kinds of events occur.”

Jimmy Alvarado v. City of New York, et al: $12 million

Jimmy Alvarado settled with the city after he claimed that police paralyzed him during a pursuit. His lawsuit alleges that around 2:30 a.m. on May 20th, 2018, he was standing on a sidewalk when a fight broke out. Alvardo’s attorneys say he wasn’t involved. But when he tried to leave the scene, they say, police chased him. One officer allegedly tackled him to the ground.

Alvarado told police at the time that he couldn’t move or feel his legs. His attorneys say police ignored his complaints and proceeded to “yank” his arms behind his back to handcuff him. When he said he couldn’t stand, they allegedly tried to force him to stand.

The lawsuit also accuses emergency medical technicians of ignoring Alvarado’s statements and failing to provide medical assistance at the scene. When they took him to the hospital, the suit claims, they didn’t immobilize his spine or take other precautions to protect his neck and back. At the hospital, Alvarado learned his neck was fractured and his spinal cord was severely injured.

Pablo Fernandez v. City of New York, et al: $12 million

Pablo Fernandez has been exonerated for a murder that sent him to prison for almost a quarter of a century. His civil suit details the series of actions by police and prosecutors that his attorneys say led to his wrongful conviction.

Fernandez immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was 18 and had only been in the country a couple years when Ramon “Manny” Quintero was killed in 1993. According to his lawsuit, multiple witnesses described the shooter as a tall, thin, light-skinned man with a gray ponytail in his mid-30s or 40s. Fernandez, on the other hand, was a stocky 20-year-old with dark skin and short, dark hair.

The lawsuit accuses detectives of working with two informants to “concoct a false story” to frame Fernandez in exchange for special treatment. It further accuses them of coercing Quintero’s teenage cousins into falsely identifying Fernandez as the murderer. One later admitted under oath that he felt “brainwashed.”

Fernandez’s attorneys don’t just focus on the specifics of his case. They place his wrongful conviction within the context of a period of widespread police corruption, as documented in a 1994 report published by a commission appointed by then-Mayor David Dinkins to investigate the NYPD. The lawsuit claims the 30th precinct, which helped to investigate Quintero’s murder, was “rife with official misconduct and corruption, so much so that it earned the nickname the ‘Dirty Thirty.’”

Shawn Williams v. City of New York, et al: $10.5 million

Like Samuel Brownridge and Pablo Fernandez, Shawn Williams spent decades behind bars for a conviction that has since been overturned. He was arrested in 1993 and convicted of murder for a shooting that occurred while he claimed he was in Reading, Pennsylvania — and had records to support his alibi — according to the lawsuit.

Williams’ suit alleges that detectives — including Louis Scarcella — pressured a witness into falsely identifying him as the shooter, even though she had a limited view of the shooting. When the witness moved to Georgia and wanted to cut off involvement with the case, police arrested her, brought her back to New York and forced her to testify, the suit claims.

The lawsuit describes Scarcella as a “media favorite and legend within the NYPD” who once said on the “Dr. Phil” show that he “didn’t play by? the rules.” But in recent years, officials have started to review cases Scarcella helped to build, including Williams’. His lawsuit cites several of them.

“The vast number of cases alleging Scarcella’s misconduct is itself evidence that the NYPD knew of and ignored his unconstitutional practices,” the suit states.

Scarcella’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Williams’ conviction was vacated in 2018, when he was 43 years old. He was a teenager when he went to prison.

Officers Named in Most Lawsuits Settled in First Seven Months of the Year:

Joseph Franco
Command: Former narcotics detective
Status: Dismissed
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: six

Former detective Joseph Franco has been named in six lawsuits that were settled in the first seven months of this year, totalling $1,295,000. Franco was dismissed in 2020, according to the NYPD. During that time, CCRB records show, he received three complaints and was disciplined twice for abuse of authority.

Franco was arrested on a perjury charge in 2019, for allegedly lying in court about drug deals he said he had watched. His indictment prompted the district attorneys in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx to drop hundreds of cases he had helped to build. Court records show his own criminal case is still pending, with another appearance scheduled for early September. Franco’s defense attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Daniel Rivera
Command: Narcotics detective second grade, Bronx
Status: Active
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: six

Detective Daniel Rivera has been named in six lawsuits that were settled in the first seven months of this year, totalling $162,000 in payouts. Time and again, Rivera and other officers were accused of unlawfully arresting people without probable cause. In one case, the plaintiff alleged police had beaten him; in another, the plaintiff said Rivera and the other officers who arrested him had handcuffed him so tightly that he had to get stitches.

Rivera, who joined the department in 2000, has received 10 civilian complaints over the years, including for force and discourtesy. But his CCRB profile shows none of them were substantiated, which means investigators found no evidence that he had broken policy. Rivera has made more than 1,000 arrests — 567 misdemeanor and 551 felony — and received seven awards — three for meritorious police duty and four for excellent police duty — according to his NYPD profile.

Robert A. Martinez
Command: Former sergeant
Status: Retired
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: four

Former Sergeant Robert Martinez has been named in four lawsuits that were settled in the first seven months of this year, totalling $115,000 in payouts. Since 2013, 26 lawsuits have been filed against him, running up a tab of $984,001.

Martinez retired from the department in 2019, after more than three decades with the department, including as a member of the NYPD’s proactive Midnight Anti-Crime Team. Over the years, he was the subject of 40 civilian complaints. Records from the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates allegations of police misconduct, show investigators substantiated eight of them, including for several cases of abuse of authority and discourtesy. The most serious discipline he faced was losing 10 vacation days for a 2013 complaint about physical force.

A 2021 Gothamist report with independent data journalist EJ Fox mapped clusters of police who had appeared together in CCRB complaints and investigations and found that Martinez had more than 600 connections to 63 other officers in the network. He was also awarded during his time on the force, including with the department’s Police Combat Cross, which is given for “extraordinary acts of heroism.”

Paul Zaino
Command: Former narcotics detective third grade, Bronx
Status: Retired
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: four

Former Detective Paul Zaino was named in four lawsuits settled in the first seven months of this year, totalling $80,000 in payouts. Several of the recent suits accused Zaino and other officers of illegal searches and arrests.

CCRB records show Zaino received five complaints during his time with the department for force and abuse of authority. Investigators did not substantiate any of the allegations. Zaino retired in June of this year, according to the NYPD.

William Schumacher
Command: Officer in the 75th precinct
Status: Active
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: four

Officer William Schumacher was named in four cases settled in the first seven months of this year that led to $115,000 in payouts.

Since joining the department in 2010, Schumacher has received 16 administrative complaints. The CCRB substantiated charges in four of those cases. He was docked 10 vacation days for abuse of authority and was disciplined for a discourtesy charge. NYPD took no disciplinary action in one case, and another is still pending for abuse of authority, offensive language and making an untruthful statement.

Schumacher’s officer profile on the NYPD website shows that he has been active during his time on the force. He has made 161 misdemeanor arrests and 156 felony arrests. His work has received dozens of awards, including 12 for meritorious police duty and 25 for excellent police duty.

Benito Cruz
Command: Public safety teams
Status: Active
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: four

Officer Benito Cruz was named in four cases settled in the first seven months of this year that resulted in $105,000 in payouts. Since joining the department in 2014, he has been the subject of three civilian complaints. In one case, the CCRB found he had violated policy in one case and substantiated charges against him for offensive language, discourtesy and physical force. CCRB records show he was placed on dismissal probation for 365 days, forfeited 45 vacation days and was suspended 30 days for that incident.

Cruz has also received dozens of awards during his time on the force — 18 for meritorious police duty and 15 for excellent police duty, per the NYPD website. His profile shows that he’s made 86 misdemeanor arrests and 68 felony arrests.

Andre O’Hara
Command: Detective third grade, gun violence suppression division
Status: Active
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: four

Officer Andre O’Hara was named in four lawsuits settled in the first seven months of the year, totalling $115,000 in payouts.

O’Hara was hired in 2016 and has received nine civilian complaints since then — some for abuse of authority and some for force. CCRB investigators only substantiated one of those complaints. The officer has received 12 awards for meritorious police duty and 27 for excellent police duty. He’s made 42 felony arrests and 29 misdemeanor arrests.

Nicholas Sommella
Command: Officer in the 75th precinct
Status: Active
Lawsuits disposed as of July 29: four

Officer Nicholas Somella was named in four lawsuits settled in the first seven months of this year, running up a tab of $110,000. He was hired in 2017 and has not had any cases settled against him before this year.

Since joining the department, he has received two civilian complaints. One of those allegations — for discourtesy — was substantiated and resulted in command A discipline, a form of reprimand that is less serious than suspension. He has made 17 misdemeanor arrests and 11 felony arrests, according to his officer profile.