NYC pays $363,500 to suspects beaten, falsely arrested by narcotics cops
Michael King filed one of the 13 civil rights suits against nine detectives and a sergeant in a Queens, N.Y., narcotics unit. To date, taxpayers have paid out $363,500 in settlements, with more cases still pending, a News investigation found.
DAVID HANDSCHUH/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Michael King, left, shown with his mother, Bernice was arrested by Queens, N.Y., narcotics cops — and eventually cleared of all charges. 'I don’t know what I’m charging you with ... I might charge you with attempted murder. I haven’t figured it out yet,' he says of the purportedly overzealous officers. He later filed suit and won a $15,000 settlement from the city.
Arrest them now; figure out a charge later.
A group of Queens narcotics cops has been accused of engaging in a frightening pattern of false arrests that includes beating suspects and stealing cash seized during raids, the Daily News has learned.
“I don’t know what I’m charging you with. I might charge you with a gun charge. I might charge you with attempted murder. I haven’t figured it out yet,” ex-con Michael King said one of the narcotics cops told him during a 2008 encounter.
King filed one of the 13 civil rights suits against nine detectives and a sergeant in a southern Queens narcotics unit. To date, taxpayers have paid out $363,500 in settlements, with more cases still pending, a News investigation found.
“It’s really reprehensible,” said Rochelle Berliner, a lawyer who won a lawsuit over one of the false arrests. “If they have to make it up, they make it up.”
Leon Wilson, the first African-American to own an Arnold bread route in New York, encountered squad members Detectives Vincent Esposito and Robert Anderson on Jan. 4, 2010, as he parked his Honda Civic in Maspeth, Queens. Esposito is a defendant in five civil rights cases, Anderson in two.
Wilson says he was ordered out of his car, and the cops began searching it without a warrant. When he asked why, Esposito allegedly said, “You watch too much f---ing TV. We have probable cause.”
In the car, they found $1,100 in cash along with several Arnold invoices and two hand-held computers. Wilson says the cops refused to believe the money was related to his bread route.
Wilson says they then pulled out a pill — which he says they planted — from under his seat, claiming it was Vicodin. They arrested him on drug charges.
Five months later, all the charges were dropped, but he says the cops started showing up on his bread route, and he soon lost the route.
“Mentally, it affected me,” he told The News last week. “My work performance went down. I was easily set up the first time. I was trying to figure out what they were planning now.”
He went to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which substantiated his complaint. The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau contacted him but never followed up, he said.
In 2011, Wilson collected a $75,000 settlement from the city. “It wasn't about the money,” he said. “I wanted to make sure these officers were reprimanded.”
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Leon Wilson lost his Arnold bread route after, he says, he was wrongly stopped by New York City cops who refused to believe $1,100 found in his car was related to his business and planted drugs at the scene. All charges were dropped, and in 2011 he collected a $75,000 settlement from the city.
The city Law Department says the Police Department tracks civil lawsuits and “communicates with the Law Department to determine whether lawsuits bear on a need for monitoring or the appropriateness of a promotion.”
Muriel Goode-Trufant, chief of the Law Department’s special federal litigation division, would not comment on whether there were such communications regarding the Queens narcotics cops, but called the settlements “straightforward business decisions that are not in any way an indication of guilt.”
“These officers combined have worked for more than 160 years in one of the most dangerous jobs in the Police Department: getting illegal guns and highly addictive drugs off our streets,” she said. “All too often, officers are pulled into dangerous situations and put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They work in high-impact roles, and therefore an individual officer is more likely to be sued in his or her line of duty than an officer in a less confrontational role.”
Some members of the squad have been repeatedly accused of picking suspects at random, ignoring due process rights and the NYPD’s requirement that cops must have “reasonable suspicion” to question a citizen.
The most-sued member of the squad is Sgt. Craig Kearney, a defendant in seven cases. Paul Galvin, 39, the manager of a tile store, sued Kearney and several other squad members after he was beaten bloody and needed eight staples in his head.
He says as he waited in his car at a Queens intersection on Feb. 15, 2007, an unidentified man with a gun smashed his window.
He says cops pulled him out of the car, then kicked and punched him in the head and body.
Several officers, including Sgt.Kearney, participated whileother cops watched, he alleged in his lawsuit.
“I remember specifically one cop asking me if my nose was broken. He’d hit me with one punch and he thought it’d be cool if he broke my nose with one hit.”
He was taken to a hospital, where cops told staff Galvin had been in a car accident. They charged him with resisting arrest and drug possession, although he insists he had no drugs.
He couldn’t make bail and spent a month on Rikers Island before heeding his lawyer’s advice to plead to a drug charge. Although he faced five years behind bars, he was immediately released on probation. The city later paid him a $40,000 settlement.
“There’s a lot of cowboy cops out there. I don't know if they convince themselves they're trying to do good, but I think they're doing more harm than anything else,” Galvin said.
A News investigation this year revealed similar excessive allegations involving Brooklyn North Narcotics.
The day after Election Day, 2008, Kearney and Det. Michael Centrone arrested Kisha White, a 39-year-old school bus driver, and her son, Omar Hudson, 23, at her home in St. Albans, Queens.
White told the News Kearney and a squad of cops entered her home when she wasn't there without a warrant after arresting her then-boyfriend on drug charges on a nearby street.
"My son was there. They took the keys out of his pocket and pushed the door in and put him on the floor. They had a gun on him," she said.
Her son called her at work and she rushed home to find him in handcuffs: “I asked the cops if they had a search warrant and they said, "You live here?" And they arrested me."
She and her son were both charged with drug possession after cops say cocaine was found in her house. She denies knowing anything about the drugs, and while the boyfriend was convicted, all charges against her and her son were dismissed a few months later.
In May the city paid White and her son $42,000 to settle a suit filed by attorney Allan Levine. She says $3,000 she had in her room was missing after the arrest, but cops made no mention of seizing money during the raid.
"I think it was wrong. When you're talking to police officer and asking them a question, they shouldn't be busting into someone's house," she said.
In March 2008, Kearney, Centrone and other cops from the squad pulled in front of ex-conKing in an unmarked car as he stood at a bus stop on Parsons Blvd. in Queens.
King told The News a plainclothes cop jumped out, pointed a gun at him and slammed him to the sidewalk. The cop got on top of him, screaming, “Where’s the drugs?” When he denied having them, he says the cop shouted, “You calling me a liar!” and punched him in the eye.
Then, he said, he heard over the cop’s walkie-talkie, “That’s the wrong guy.”
King was arrested anyway, along with another man across the street wearing the same color jacket. He says when he asked about charges, the cop replied, "I don't know what I'm charging you with. I might charge you with a gun charge. I might charge you with attempted murder. I haven't figured it out yet."
Narcotics raids like this one in Staten island sometimes spur allegagions of corruption. Says Muriel Goode-Trufant, chief of the Law Department’s special federal litigation division: 'These officers ... work in high-impact roles, and therefore an individual officer is more likely to be sued in his or her line of duty than an officer in a less confrontational role.'
King was hit with drug charges, although he insists he had no drugs on him. On his attorney’s advice, he says, he pleaded guilty to lesser drug charges and served eight months.
During the arrest, King says the cop busted his ribs and then delayed getting treatment. As a result, he says he’s undergone surgeries and still suffers with constant pain.
He filed suit and won a $15,000 settlement from the city in 2010, but the nightmare lingers. "I try to put it behind me but its hard. Every year when it comes around that time, March, I get depressed. I don't shave. I don't want to go out.
“If I see cops I go into a cold sweat immediately,” he said.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has had to toss out charges against multiple suspects arrested by the narcotics unit — even when guns and drugs were recovered.
His spokesman Kevin Ryan said, “Any instances of misconduct are looked at on a case-by-case basis by our Integrity Bureau.Such investigations are sometimes done jointly with Internal Affairs and at other times aredone independently.”
Juan Lora has alleged that Detectives Esposito, Anderson and Raymond Paltoo made up a story to justify busting into his 65th Place apartment Dec. 12.
Paltoo swore in a complaint he saw Lora exit his apartment building “holding a large white envelope with a green leafy substance sticking out of said envelope.”
The squad then entered the building, where they found eight bags of marijuana, the complaint states.
But the Queens DA had to drop the case because video showed no trace of Lora exiting at all, never mind holding an envelope with a “green leafy substance.”.
In the last two weeks, Lora has alleged that during the raid,cops took $12,000 from his mother in the house and $2,500 from his pocket.
His attorney, Stephen Murphy, says the money was never vouchered.
Sanchez’s case is pending.
A News investigation this year revealed similar excessive allegations involving Brooklyn North Narcotics. A sergeant there, Daniel Sbarra, was sued 15 times for alleged misconduct, and racked up 30 CCRB complaints.
Sbarra was promoted to lieutenant in August 2011 — and transferred to Queens North Narcotics. He was placed on desk duty at police headquarters in June, after The News exposé .