Two Queens detectives have been arrested on official misconduct and filing a false instrument charges stemming from a 2014 gun possession arrest they made in Washington Heights, which prosecutors say was based on an illegal search justified by repeated lies.
Detectives Kevin Desormeau and Sasha Neve, both 33, work for the Queens South Gang Squad, but were uptown on November 6th, 2014 when they allegedly searched a woman's apartment on West 175th Street and arrested a man for gun possession. In a slew of documents and statements—a police report, a criminal complaint, a search warrant application written after the fact, a handwritten confession purportedly by the defendant, and in Neve's case, grand jury testimony—the detectives said that a man pointed them to the apartment where someone had pointed a gun at him, and that the unnamed suspect answered the door with a gun in his waistband, whereupon they arrested him.
Witness interviews, surveillance footage, and text messages by the officers show that those statements were lies, and the gun charges were thrown out, according to prosecutors, but not before the 38-year-old suspect was indicted. Neve is also being charged with perjury.
Former mayor Michael Bloomberg and former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly awarded Desormeau the Police Combat Cross, the second-most-prestigious NYPD award, in 2013. The medal was to commemorate a January 2011 chase and shootout Desormeau was involved in.
Neve faces two felony charges that carry as many as seven and four years in prison, and two misdemeanors that carry as much as a year in prison each. Desormeau faces a felony charge with a maximum sentence of four years, and a one-year misdemeanor. A judge released them without bail yesterday afternoon. Their lawyers didn't respond to calls seeking comment.
This isn't the first time the detectives have been accused of lies and misconduct. Neve and/or Desormeau are named in four recent federal civil rights lawsuits, wherein their alleged victims painted a picture of them and their colleagues as indifferent to truth and decency. In one, a man reported being cuffed along with a neighbor outside his Jamaica row house on an evening in 2013 when a SWAT team raided a neighboring building. When asked by a fellow cop what he should "do with them," Neve allegedly grunted, "Take them in."
The plaintiff in the case, Ronald Fourcand, was wearing a surgical boot after a recent operation, and he reported asking Neve at the precinct for his foot to be bandaged to avoid an infection. She allegedly responded, "Shut up." After 48 hours in custody, Forucand learned he had been charged with a drug crime for an apartment that he said he had never been in, and had indeed gotten a nasty infection, according to the suit. The city settled the case for an undisclosed amount of taxpayer money.
In another case, stemming from an August 2015 encounter, Desormeau and a partner allegedly jumped out of an unmarked car and frisked a man walking home from work in East New York. When the man tried to take a photo of the officers' license plate afterwards, they allegedly drove the car into him, rifled through his pockets as he lay on the ground, and didn't call an ambulance before leaving. The city settled that case, again for an undisclosed amount.
Also in 2015, Desormeau and several others allegedly raided an apartment in Brownsville, and arrested two men over a gun found in a locked box in a bedroom. The man who sued spent four days in jail before making bail, and three weeks later, a grand jury rejected the charges. Again, the city settled for an undisclosed amount.
In an ongoing case that is perhaps the most egregious, both Neve and Desormeau are accused of involvement, and the city stopped defending them midway through, leaving the task to Detectives' Endowment Association lawyers. In that case, a man named Roosevelt McCoy says that in 2014, the cops pulled him out of a restaurant in Jamaica, Queens, searched him without cause, arrested him without cause, strip-searched him at the precinct, and even though they found nothing on him, charged him with selling drugs, saying they had seen him make a sale and found drugs on him. Unable to make bail, McCoy spent 52 days on Rikers Island, and the Queens District Attorney's Office did not drop the charges until a year and seven months later.
The city recently agreed to pay out $547,500 in that case, and the claims against the two cops as individuals are ongoing.
The growing ubiquity of cellphone and surveillance video is making it harder for police officers to lie in reports, as Officer Jonathan Munoz has learned. (Rankin and Taylor/YouTube)
None of the civil rights lawyers who worked on the cases against Neve and Desormeau were shocked.
"I'm not surprised, because the conduct that’s described in the DA’s press release is strikingly similar to the conduct that is at issue in the Roosevelt McCoy case," said McCoy's lawyer Gabriel Harvis. "What we’re talking about is a very disturbing betrayal of the public trust. We all rely on the integrity of police officers out in the street, and when they start making things up out of thin air, nobody’s safe."
Police misconduct is common enough that whole law firms can survive almost exclusively on civil suits focused on it. And though juries and judges sometimes formally find officers' statements incredible, criminal prosecutions of police officers for false statements are rare. "You can count on one hand the number of perjury prosecutions that have been brought," said Harvis, who has run a civil rights practice for about a decade and previously worked for the city Law Department.
In a filing on behalf of Arthur West, the man arrested in Brownsville on the false gun charge, lawyer Nicole Bellina argued that the Law Department and NYPD fail to track civil rights lawsuits against police officers, thus nullifying their potential deterrent value, that the NYPD does nothing to track court findings regarding officers' credibility, and that the Civilian Complaint Review Board and NYPD Internal Affairs complaint system provide too many opportunities for police brass to opt out of punishing bad officers.
"As a result, the NYPD does not learn of potential problem officers, fails to take curative action, and not infrequently fosters a situation in which an officer will engage in another act of violation, resulting in harm to another person and further damages from the City," Bellina wrote.
Advocates say that the information the NYPD, DA's offices, and Law Department need to clamp down on problem officers is readily available—it's just a matter of trying. Doing so, they said, would save the city money in the long run.
"Now, as a result" of the detectives' arrests, "the city is potentially facing, I would imagine, quite a few lawsuits coming down the pike," Harvis said. "It's going to lead to the dismissal of a lot of cases, and I’m sure they weren’t all tainted. They’re now all tainted. You’re going to see guilty people go free. That’s the price we have to pay as a society."
A Queens District Attorney's Office spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the office will review past convictions that rely on Desormeau and Neve's police work.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on its misconduct-tracking efforts.
The department does have a Risk Management Bureau, which is supposed to draw from lawsuits, misconduct complaints, and internal investigations to identify "officers who might be in need of enhanced training or supervision." Founded in 2015 in response to a Daily News series laying out the most-sued officers in the department, the bureau has been faulted by the NYPD's inspector general for gaps in its tracking system, including not having a feature to search lawsuits by officer name.
A Manhattan District Attorney's Office spokeswoman said that the office has a Conviction Integrity Program in which it tracks civil rights cases against cops to vet witnesses and identify information that needs to be disclosed to defense attorneys. In late 2015, Manhattan DAs touted their indictment of NYPD Officer Jonathan Munoz on felony filing a false instrument charges related to his allegedly arresting a man for filming him, then claiming he had taken a swing at him. Munoz is still awaiting trial.
The city paid out $228.5 million in awards and settlements for police misconduct suits in 2016, nearly triple the payouts in 2005. That of course is only one way of measuring the impact.
"Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're not just talking about money and civil rights lawsuits and settlements," Bellina told Gothamist. "We're talking about an officer lying, a person being taken to jail, people losing housing, jobs, relationships, all those sorts of things."