NYPD, Prosecutor & NYC Conspired to Destroy Black and Brown Lives
What I’m about to tell you is the most painful, traumatic, outrageous, outlandish, over-the-top story of government sanctioned police brutality, wrongful imprisonment, wrongful convictions, forced testimony, widespread corruption, money, lots of money, and deep, deep, deep soul-snatching psychological abuse in modern American history. I would not have believed it had I not seen it all for myself. The rabbit hole I am about to take you down is deep and twisted. It should lead to the termination of a whole host of officials. Many should be arrested and a comprehensive independent investigation should begin immediately.
I receive hundreds of personal emails about injustice in America every single day. In mid-July, dozens of those emails were about a Bronx teenager named Pedro Hernandez. People all over the country had seen reports from Sarah Wallace of NBC New York or James Ford of Pix 11 on how Hernandez, who was jailed at Rikers Island, was running out of time to be released in time to start college. Hernandez had won awards at Rikers for his leadership and academic performance, and had also been granted a scholarship from the Posse Foundation to enter college this fall. Offered a plea deal from the Bronx DA’s Office to be released for time served, Hernandez did what few people in his position would do — he turned down the deal. Accused of shooting Shaun Nardoni, a neighborhood teenager, in the leg on September 1st, 2015, Hernandez was offered a ticket out of Rikers in exchange for admitting he shot Nardoni. The District Attorney even sweetened the pot and pledged to expunge his record in five years if he met all of the terms of his probation. Hernandez still refused to take the deal — continuing to pledge that he was completely innocent and would rather take his chances with a jury before admitting to something he didn’t do.
For nearly a week, people emailed me about Pedro’s case before I finally clicked on the link to see what it was all about. Tory Russell, an activist and organizer from St. Louis, who I’d come to know from Ferguson, sent me a direct message on Twitter asking me if I could read the story and support Pedro somehow. I was on vacation with my family and it still took me another three days to finally read the story. I was hooked, but I had questions. As I Googled Pedro’s name and case, I saw several local reports that stated he had been wrongfully arrested and harassed by the NYPD for years. A guard at another facility was actually arrested and charged with criminal assault, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal obstruction of breathing and blood circulation, and harassment after being caught on film brutally beating and choking Pedro. Eight different eyewitnesses had all come forward to state that Pedro was not the shooter. Many even went so far as to identify the actual shooter. Why then, did Pedro remain behind bars? Why did it seem like the NYPD had it out for him? And how could the Bronx DA simultaneously believe that Pedro was safe enough to set free if he took the plea, but so dangerous, that if he didn’t, his bail would be set at an outrageous $250,000 with a stipulation that he not pay the typical 10%, but pay all $250,000 — effectively ensuring that he’d never get out on bail. That Pedro Hernandez, with the entire deck stacked against him, still refused to take a plea, hooked me.
As I reached out to Pedro’s family, I was immediately struck by something peculiar. I’ve written nearly 1,000 stories about police brutality and misconduct and have interviewed hundreds of families suffering through the consequences of those things. Almost every single one of those families, particularly when they are still in a stage of grief or conflict, without fail, want to speak exclusively about their very specific case. Pedro’s family was different. They immediately wanted me to know that Pedro was not alone, but that he was just one of hundreds of victims whose lives had been turned upside down by officers from the 42nd precinct in the Bronx who were working in close concert with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. The accusations were so sweeping and broad that I wasn’t sure how to process them.
They went something like this:
“Stop and frisk has been banned, but police in the 42nd precinct are actually doing something far worse. They are setting quotas and goals for the number of people each officer must arrest. If you don’t meet or exceed the quotas, you feel the wrath of your supervisors. Instead of rejecting the quotas, some officers are embracing them and rounding up people, particularly teenage children, for crimes they know good and well they didn’t commit — locking them away sometimes for days, weeks, months, or even years at a time — then simply dismissing the charges. This isn’t just a few rogue cops, but an entire precinct is doing this and they are partnering with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office to make it happen. With threats, and even brute force, kids are being coerced to identify and testify against people they don’t even know. Officers are terrorizing families, snatching kids out of their beds, not a few times, but dozens of times per child, sometimes arresting them on false charges, sending them to Rikers, then releasing them months later. Cops think they can do anything they want and it appears they can. Pedro is being framed. They tried to frame him over and over again before this case. And other kids are being framed too. And the kids and families who’ve been victimized by this scandal are hollow shells of their former selves. The Police Commissioner, the Comptroller, and the Mayor all know about this and are doing nothing.”
In mid-July, I wasn’t quite sure how much of all of that I believed. Now, I believe all of it –every single bit. How I got here wasn’t easy, but over the next five days I’m going to try to break it all down for you. Saying it all in one piece would be sensory overload. Trust me. The evidence is meticulous, overwhelming and undeniable. I’ll have to start from the beginning and give you the foundation for how any what I’m going to be sharing is even possible. Today is the foundation, the next four parts of this series will not only expose the injustice, but will detail each case, the primary perpetrators, and who in the New York City government was aware that such corruption and brutality took place and did nothing to stop it.
GENTRIFICATION AND THE INCREASING “INVISIBILITY” OF POLICE BRUTALITY IN NEW YORK CITY
For our Brooklyn apartment, my family of seven currently pays more in monthly rent for what is literally the second smallest of the fifty-five homes my wife and I have lived in between the two of us. The smallest ever was our first New York apartment. The monthly rent here is more than my entire Daily News paycheck. I work three other jobs to cover everything else. As rents have gone up and up and up, the old residents of my neighborhood have been squeezed out. When the cable guy came by to install our Internet and television, I kid you not, he smiled and said “Man, back in the day, I used to sell weed right outside of where your apartment is. Nobody used to wanna live here. It was totally different.”
I’ve come to understand just how right he is. For the fifteen years of my adult life that I called Atlanta home, I met more people who relocated there from New York than anywhere else. When they told me they left New York because the cost of living in Atlanta was so much better, I never quite appreciated what they meant until my family moved up here ourselves. The struggle is real. With what we pay for rent right now, in Atlanta you could live like royalty. Kanye said it best in his track Gossip Files,
How you go to New York?
What, you ain’t never took a tour there?
What, you ain’t know you gotta be rich just to be poor there?
He’s right. My wife and I know school teachers in New York who literally struggle to afford gas money or subway passes. What passes for “nice” in New York, would struggle to pass for that almost anywhere else. The poor and middle class have been pushed to the outer edges of New York City — deep into the Bronx or Brownsville and out of the central city of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Gentrification has caused Biggie’s Bed Stuy and Diddy’s Harlem to be heavily peopled by hipster white folk walking dogs and riding bikes. And what that means is that the methods of policing in these areas have changed drastically. Wherever huge numbers of white folk exist, the methods of policing change. Mind you, studies show that a higher percentage of white people actually sell drugs than African Americans, but African Americans are policed and prosecuted for those same drugs in a way that is altogether different for whites. Consequently, neighborhoods that were once hotbeds of aggressive policing just ten or twenty years ago now experience something far more humane from the NYPD — giving a few million people that live here the impression that police brutality must no longer exist in New York the way it used to.
It does. Gentrification here means millions of us rarely see police brutality because it doesn’t happen in our neighborhood, but it’s happening, in precincts and districts that the privileged classes rarely visit, and it’s worse than you could ever imagine.
SOMETHING MUCH WORSE THAN STOP AND FRISK: ARREST QUOTAS
Officer Craig Matthews (of the 42nd Precinct) v. New York City & the NYPD
Officer Matthews is not only a 19 year veteran of the NYPD, but has won award after award for his great work — including stopping a crazed shooter in Manhattan near the Empire State Building. He was simply unwilling to arrest and charge people from crimes they didn’t commit — which is what the quota system in the 42nd Precinct was demanding officers do. When Matthews began reporting to his supervisors that he was being asked to do complete false arrests and meet illegal quotas, the mistreatment began. He tried to work within the system and when that didn’t work, he was finally forced to file this lawsuit exposing the NYPD’s illegal quota system.
See his full lawsuit here. It’s as compelling as it gets.
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The US Circuit Court actually upheld his lawsuit. See it here:
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Then New York City settled with Officer Matthews, who still works for the department. See that here. This man is a hero.
See a news segment on the settlement and lawsuit here:
Officer Vanessa Hicks (of the 42nd Precinct) v. New York City & the NYPD
In the same precinct as Officer Craig Matthews, Vanessa Hicks was being told that she, too, had to meet the arrest quota or suffer the consequences. She had a strong career in the department, but the NYPD derailed her career after she refused to participate in the quota system with false arrests.
See the full lawsuit here:
Officer Adhyl Polanco v. New York City & The NYPD
Officer Adhyl Polanco, who still works for the NYPD, was a pioneer in exposing quotas, police misconduct, false arrests, and forced/coerced confessions within the NYPD. Like others, he attempted to work within the system and only resorted to filing a lawsuit when his supervisors began to directly threaten his career because he exposed corruption.
See his full lawsuit here:
You just need to read this case file for yourself. When Officer Adrian Schoolcraft exposed an illegal arrest quota system within the NYPD — including extensive evidence of the system from recordings and data collection, he was literally forced to stay in a mental hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Yeah, really. When he fled the city to stay with his father in upstate New York, he recorded the police coming to his father’s house to harass him over and over again. After years of fighting back against the NYPD, the City of New York and Jamaica Hospital finally settled with him.
See the full lawsuit here:
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Here is a news video from that year on Officer Schoolcraft’s lawsuit:
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All of this is to say that brave officers within the NYPD have made it clear that an illegal quota system, which relies on false arrests, false reports, and false confessions, drives the NYPD. We’re talking about a system that just had to throw out 900,000 bogus cases. This system, which must be exposed and rooted out, is the foundation of poor policing across the city. Police say this. It’s important to point out that because this isn’t a conspiracy theory from an activist or a hit piece from a journalist, today is about allowing the brave officers of the NYPD to describe the most critical problem they have for themselves. In these next four parts, we will show how arrest quotas have literally ruined the lives of family after family in one Bronx community and how the highest officials in the city have bent over backwards to conceal this unjust system. To be clear, this story has heroes, villains, and far too many victims.
Shaun King Husband, Father, Journalist, Activist. Writer-in-Residence at Harvard Law’s Fair Punishment Project.