“Despite the law’s clear mandate to issue appearance tickets, the NYPD unlawfully arrested, handcuffed, and in some instances physically brutalized the Plaintiffs,” the civil complaint says. In addition to a ruling that would compel the NYPD to adhere to the law, the lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages for the five people.
The plaintiffs were handcuffed, sometimes with zip-tie handcuffs; taken to holding facilities in “overcrowded, filthy, and overheated” transport vehicles; and detained for hours in cells “where little or no covid-19 pandemic precautions were taken,” the suit alleges.
“The law is clear, but the NYPD still overwhelmingly refuses to issue appearance tickets for low-level offenses, instead processing New Yorkers — the majority from Black and Brown neighborhoods — through the legal system,” said Marlen Bodden, the lead attorney on the case from Legal Aid’s Special Litigation Unit.
Before the passage of state criminal justice measures targeting bail reform and aimed at reducing the amount of time people spend in police custody or in jail, police officers had discretion in many cases as to whether to issue what has been traditionally known as a “desk appearance ticket” ordering a person to appear in court at a later date, or to put a suspect through the system, where the person should see a judge within 24 hours.
Legal Aid Society lawyers representing the plaintiffs say the law that went into effect at the start of 2020 removed discretionary authority from the police and eliminated any period of time that a person with an eligible offense can be in custody — even if it’s just a trip to the nearest precinct while a ticket is composed. A ticket must be issued on-site, the attorneys said.
“We will review the lawsuit if and when we are served,” an NYPD spokesman, Sgt. Edward D. Riley, said in a statement.
New York City’s Law Department, which defends the NYPD and other city agencies in lawsuits, did not immediately provide a comment.
One of the plaintiffs, Charles Douglas, 32, said he was with friends near Union Square on May 31 after a nighttime demonstration against police brutality that, like others throughout the city and around the country, was inspired by the encounter days earlier between Minneapolis police and Floyd, a Black man who died after an officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
Douglas, who lives in Lower Manhattan, says that he and his friends were not taking part in the protest and that when he was asked by an NYPD supervisor to leave the area, he complied. But the same official pushed him in the back, Douglas says. “Please don’t shove me sir,” he responded, according to the criminal complaint. The supervisor then told other officers to arrest Douglas. He was tackled and handcuffed, according to his account.
Douglas was charged with disorderly conduct, a violation, in an appearance ticket that was issued to him after nearly eight hours, much of which was spent in a packed cell at One Police Plaza with dozens of people also arrested that night, “many of whom were not wearing masks” to help protect against the spread of the coronavirus, the lawsuit says.
Douglas, in an interview, said he was “annoyed” when he found out some time later from an attorney that he was not supposed to be held for any length of time. It confirmed “the fact that this was a fairly egregious overreach and overstep of authority by the police — but that was a feeling I already had.”
“I knew throughout this process that it was not correct and it was not acceptable,” Douglas added. “I assumed it had to be in violation of something.”