By David Brand
More than 130 federal civil rights lawsuits filed against Queens cops in recent years have so far resulted in verdicts and settlements totaling $1,475,001, according to a database of federal lawsuits against the NYPD compiled by The Legal Aid Society. The payouts range from a few thousand dollars to a $305,000 jury verdict in a Laurelton police brutality case.
The database, known as CAPstat, used publicly available information to pull back the curtain on allegations of NYPD officer misconduct and excessive use of force, revealing how improper behavior by officers has injured individuals, alienated communities of color and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements.
“Transparency and accountability around police misconduct are two of the most important issues we face in the fight for criminal justice reform today,” said Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards in a statement praising the initiative. “While the toll police misconduct takes on our families and communities weighs the heaviest, it also hits our city’s wallet hard as well and the more information available, the better we all can be at addressing patterns of abuse and neglect.”
Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law shields officers’ disciplinary records from release and review, so to shine some light on allegations against NYPD officers, Legal Aid compiled federal civil rights lawsuits that were filed between January 2015 and June 2018.
The database does not analyze the lawsuits, it merely compiles them, Legal Aid wrote in a disclaimer accompanying CAPstat. New York Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch condemned the database for that reason.
“An overwhelming number of lawsuits against police officers are meritless claims filed for nuisance value in hopes of a quick payout from the city,” Lynch said in a statement.
“Not all lawsuits filed for money have legal merit,” an NYPD spokesperson said in an email. “The ones that do can be valuable tools we use to improve officer performance and enhance training or policy where necessary. The Legal Aid Society’s own disclaimer says they can’t vouch for the accuracy, credibility or reliability of the data.”
There were 2,326 total civil rights lawsuits filed against the NYPD between January 2015 and June 2018, of which 790 settled for $53,790,898, according to the database.
The majority of the 131 lawsuits filed against cops from Queens’ 16 police precincts are still pending. Most were filed by people of color who claimed they were improperly arrested, searched or injured by NYPD officers.
Among Queens’ 16 police precincts, officers from the 105th Precinct in eastern Queens cost the city the most money in settlements: $349,500 from two settlements and a trial verdict, according to the database. Ten other cases associated with the 105th Precinct are pending and one was dismissed. The 105th covers Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Queens Village and several other eastern Queens neighborhoods.
Most of that total comes from a $305,000 jury verdict in favor of Ivan Benjamin, an African-American man who was dragged from his car and beaten by two officers during a traffic stop on Conduit Avenue in Laurelton, according to the complaint filed in federal court for the Southern District of New York.
Benjamin’s fiancee and her daughter were sitting in the car when the officers pulled Benjamin out, punched him and bashed him in the head, inflicting a traumatic brain injury that resulted in a seizure disorder, the complaint states.
The verdict, which includes attorney fees, was the highest amount awarded in a case involving Queens cops.
Attorney Fred Lichtmacher represented Benjamin in that case and told the Eagle he was surprised there have not been more large settlements or verdicts involving Queens cops.
“There are weekend nights I’ve been in arraignments in Queens and it looks like a triage unit because there are so many people injured,” Lichtmacher said. “Why is that?”
In total, officers from the 105th Precinct were hit with 14 federal lawsuits between 2015 and 2018 — the third most in the borough.
The 103rd Precinct and the 113th Precinct racked up the majority of federal lawsuits in Queens, with 22 each between 2015 and 2018. Most are still pending.
The 113th Precinct’s four settlements total $116,000. One lawsuit was dismissed and 17 others are pending. The precinct includes part of Jamaica and Hollis as well as St. Albans and South Ozone Park.
The 103rd Precinct’s six settlements total $242,001. Sixteen other lawsuits are pending. The precinct includes parts of Jamaica and Hollis.
The most expensive settlement associated with the 103rd Precinct totaled $97,000.
In that case, roughly a dozen officers arrived at the Jamaica home of Terrance Tippins on July 5, 2014 and asked to enter, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court for the Eastern District of New York. The officers did not have a warrant and Tippins refused to let them enter his house. When Tippins’ sister Shantell Tippins arrived at the house, officers told her they were responding to a 911 call about a man in need of medical attention who had entered the home. Tippins opened the door to let his sister inside and again refused to let the officers enter without a warrant.
The officers grabbed Tippins from his home, threw him down the front steps and pressed him into the concrete, breaking his orbital bone, according to the complaint. When Shantell Tippins objected, the cops grabbed her and dragged her down the steps until neighbors informed the officers that she was pregnant, the complaint continues.
Officers brought Terrence Tippins, Shantell Tippins and her son to the precinct, where they charged Terrance Tippins with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
The city also settled for $200,000 with Himen Ross, a Bronx resident who was arrested in 2008 for allegedly shooting a 16-year-old to death in Rockaway and spent six years on Rikers Island awaiting trial. He was found not guilty by a jury and sued the city, claiming the officers from the 101st Precinct obtained false testimony from a witness in order to indict him, according to the complaint filed in federal court for the Eastern District of New York.
Two Queens precincts, the 107th and the 112th, have not been associated with any settlements, according to the database. There are four lawsuits pending against officers from the 107th and five pending against officers from the 112th.
Citywide, the most expensive case in the database is a $13 million settlement with Antonio Yarbrough, who was wrongfully convicted of a triple homicide in 1992 and locked up for 20 years. Yarbrough and a co-defendant were exonerated in 2014 after the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit moved to vacate their convictions based on DNA evidence.
The third most expensive case in the database is a $4 million settlement with NBA player Thabo Sefolosha, a black Swedish citizen assaulted by NYPD officers from Manhattan’s 10th Precinct outside the elite 1 Oak club in April 2015. Sefolosha suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments when several cops jumped on him after investigating a reported stabbing in the club, according to court documents.
Sefolosha was not involved with the stabbing. He was charged with obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.