The NYPD and city lawyers are engaging in a “stunning pattern” of evidence destruction in a high-stakes class-action case alleging cops have issued 850,000 bogus summonses due to a quota system, new documents charge.
Attorneys for the city have failed to turn over even one email from the files of former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly or former Chief of Department Joseph Esposito regarding summons activity over the last eight years, attorney Elinor Sutton writes in new filings in Manhattan Federal Court seeking sanctions against the city.
“It is simply not tenable that Commissioner Kelly and Chief Esposito did not — in the entire period of 2007 through the present — write or receive emails using terms” related to the word “summons,” Sutton writes.
The city was unable to find any communications about summonses in the files of three other former members of NYPD brass, as well.
But that’s not the only example of missing evidence, Sutton says.
Police Lt. Stevelle Brown, who is alleged to have implemented a quota in Queens’ 105th Precinct, has destroyed text messages in which he denied a cop time off for failing to meet goals for traffic summonses, Sutton charges.
She also points to an exchange from an officer identified only as Sgt. Carty, who sternly admonished a cop for failing to issue enough seatbelt summonses.
Capt. Andrew Benjamin was lamented in emails about the lack of arrests among his top overtime earners. Some communications still exist showing cops discussing the a quota for summonses, but not many.
“We missed seat belt number by 30 last week unacceptable. if need be u guys will go with me 2 traffic stat 2 explain why u missed,” the text reads.
Lastly, Sutton has introduced emails from Capt. Andrew Benjamin, who laments the lack of arrests among his top overtime earners in the Bronx Task Force division.
“This has to stop it is ridiculous to have 50 + hours with only one arrest,” Benjamin wrote.
Sutton said lawyers obtained the three exchanges through whistleblowers or by other means. The city has been unable to obtain its own copies of the messages. That’s proof, Sutton writes, that the communications have been improperly destroyed.
“The spoliation of this evidence clearly demonstrates Defendants’ bad-faith, grossly negligent, or at least, negligent destruction of relevant documents,” Sutton writes.
“The (evidence) production confirms what plaintiffs feared but defendants have repeatedly denied: Defendants have destroyed evidence that is unquestionably relevant to this matter.”
To make matters worse, the NYPD has an on-the-books policy of shredding reams of documents potentially relevant to the case, Sutton’s 15-page letter charges.
“Defendants have shredded, and are continuing to shred, hard-copy documents” from CompStat meetings where crime statistics are analyzed by NYPD brass, court documents claim, citing testimony from a lieutenant who managed the CompStat unit of the Office of the Chief of Department.
Monthly activity reports in which supervisors provide written feedback on individual officers’ “enforcement activity” are also being destroyed, Sutton alleges.
As if that’s not enough, city lawyers didn’t advise the NYPD to preserve communications related to summonses until 2013 — three years after the suit was filed, Sutton says.
“Our justice system depends on the exchange of relevant evidence,” Sutton told the Daily News in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the city Law Department declined to comment.
The city was unable to find any communications about summonses from four former NYPD leaders, including Chief of Department Joseph Esposito.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
In a response filed last week, city attorney Qiana Smith-Williams said the alleged evidence destruction was “short on meritorious claims” and that the sides had not yet “exhausted the possibility of a settlement.”
A trial on the case before Judge Robert Sweet is expected sometime early next year.
If the plaintiffs prevail in the case, the NYPD could possibly have to overhaul the way it issues summonses.
The class includes anyone who has been issued a criminal court summons beginning in May 2007 that was tossed by a judge because it was legally insufficient — meaning the officer’s description of the alleged offense did not articulate probable cause.
An April study by John Jay College-College of Criminal Justice found that 18% of summonses between 2003 and 2013 were dismissed due to legal insufficiency.
The city is accused of destroying evidence that showed police issued bogus summonses to meet a quota. City lawyers have argued that many of the summonses were justified though they were tossed.
“By and large, the summonses in question were dismissed because there was not enough detail concerning the alleged offense,” Smith-Williams said.
The lead plaintiff is Sharif Stinson, who in 2010 was slapped with summonses for trespassing and disorderly conduct after leaving his aunt’s Bronx apartment. Both summonses were dismissed by a judge for legal insufficiency.
The case is being closely watched as a sequel of sorts to the stop-and-frisk cases that resulted in major reforms to the NYPD and the installation of a federal monitor to oversee the department.
The dispute in the case comes after City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s call for more low-level offenders to be issued summonses instead of arrested. She also seeks the decriminalization of a slew of quality-of-life offenses.
She argues the move will lead to fewer young people being sent to jail.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in May that he’s open to a compromise that will divert “more quality-of-life offenders from the criminal process,” such as by issuing warnings or violations under the civil administrative code instead of the criminal code.