By Radley Balko
In refusing to dismiss a lawsuit against New York City brought by two brothers arrested on trumped-up drug charges, Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein had some harsh words for the city's police department. From the NY Daily News:
"Informal inquiry by [myself] and among the judges of this court, as well as knowledge of cases in other federal and state courts ... has revealed anecdotal evidence of repeated, widespread falsification by arresting officers of the New York City Police Department," Weinstein wrote.
He said that while the vast majority of cops don't engage in crooked practices, it was common enough to be an institutional problem.
The judge said that despite better training for recruits and tough disciplinary action for bad cops, "there is some evidence of an attitude among officers that is sufficiently widespread to constitute a custom or policy by the city approving illegal conduct."
Maximo and Jose Colon were arrested and jailed last January for participating in a drug deal with undercover officers at a Brooklyn bar. They were released—and the officers who arrested them were later indicted—when surveillance video showed the arresting officers fabricated the entire drug deal. From an AP story on the case last June:
Jose quickly got the tape to defense attorney Rochelle Berliner, a former narcotics prosecutor. She couldn't believe what she was seeing.
"I almost threw up," she said. "Because I must've prosecuted 1,500, 2,000 drug cases ... and all felonies. And I think back, Oh my God, I believed everything everyone told me. Maybe a handful of times did something not sound right to me. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic but I was like, sick."
What the tape doesn't show is striking: At no point did the brothers interact with the undercover officers, nor did the brothers appear to be involved in a drug deal with anyone else. Adding insult to injury, an outside camera taped the undercover officers literally dancing down the street.
If it weren't for the tape, the Colons would probably still be in prison.
The Colons' lawsuit argues the incident is one of many, brought about in part by arrest quotas imposed on officers by the NYPD.