by Derek Gilna
New York City police misconduct continues to cost New York taxpayers a lot of money. In the past five years, New York City has paid out $384 million in judgments and settlements to resolve scores of lawsuits, including sums as small as $1,500 and as large as $13 million, with the majority of resolved cases ranging from $5,001 to $25,000.
In that time, 11,404 suits were filed against the city, and settlements were paid to about 5,800 people.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has attempted to cut down on the opportunities of those he termed “ambulance chasing lawyers,” by reining in “stop and frisk” policies that had greatly increased the number of citizen complaints in the previous administration, but payouts have continued to increase. De Blasio said when he came into office in 2015, “The court process is long, it’s complicated, it’s costly. But we’ll do that to send a clear message that this (trend) has got to stop.”
However, continuing instances of police misconduct continue to result in 530 of what plaintiff’s lawyers’ term “nuisance” settlements of $5,000 or less, in the past five years, despite the city attempting to drive a hard bargain. According to civil rights lawyer Randolph McLaughlin, these generally are only for cases involving “a little disrespect, just pushing and shoving.”
Plaintiff’s lawyer Eric Siegle’s firm has obtained 36 settlements for a total of $3.4 million. Ironically, he said, the city’s recent aggressive settlement stance has actually boosted settlement amounts, since police “usually don’t fess up to the city lawyers as to what really happened in the case. When we go through discovery, our cases get so much better and so much stronger,” he said. “We’re getting more money later on — much more than we would have maybe taken at early settlement, because the egregious conduct of the police officers that we’re discovering through going the litigation process is much worse than we even anticipated.”
New York City has also paid out 37 settlements of $1 million or more, which totaled $190 million. Two of the largest payments were for $13 million each to Antonio Yarbough and the estate of Abdul Shariff Wilson, both freed after serving years in jail for their wrongful conviction for the slaying of Yarbough’s mother.
Both were exonerated in 2013 after DNA testing established their innocence. Another settlement of $12.25 million was paid to Andre Hatchett for his wrongful conviction for the 1991 murder of a woman, despite the fact that Hatchett had a cast on one leg and required crutches to walk. At the time of his release, Hatchett had served 25 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Also included in the city’s settlements were families of Eric Garner, who was strangled in an illegal chokehold, and the police shooting death of Akai Gurley, for $5.9 million and $4.5 million, respectively.
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