The Bronx Defenders have filed two separate lawsuits against the NYPD and New York City alleging a pattern of racist police misconduct toward Black and brown New Yorkers, including one lawsuit against the Bronx Narcotics Unit, a unit for which the city paid out roughly $23 million in misconduct claims over the last decade.
Both cases were filed on Feb. 28 in the U.S. Southern District Court, and according to the Bronx Defenders, are case in point of the NYPD and the city allowing “a brushfire of racist misconduct to continue to burn.” Each lawsuit is seeking punitive damages to be determined at a jury trial.
The first case involves Albert Williams, a 60-year-old Black man who alleges that nine plainclothes officers from the Bronx Narcotics Unit assaulted him in his apartment on Nov. 30, 2020, during an interaction with an undercover officer. According to the lawsuit, Williams states that the undercover officer who initially approached him at his Bronx home did not identify himself as police and demanded drugs.
When Williams attempted to flee the apartment, he said he was flanked by eight undercover officers who pinned him to the ground, hurled racial slurs at him and began physically assaulting him when he was apprehended on the street. Charges, however, were ultimately dropped for lack of sufficient evidence, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.
“They punched, kicked, and stomped him repeatedly while he was prone on the ground with his hands behind his back. Then they held him in handcuffs against the back of their van while punching him in the groin and calling him ‘n*****,'” an excerpt from the lawsuit reads.
According to the Bronx Defenders, a firm which defends low-income Bronx residents in criminal, civil, child welfare and immigration cases, none of the officers involved in the altercation were disciplined. But since 2013, the city has paid more than $5 million in settlements against the Bronx Narcotics Unit for unlawful force claims, according to the lawsuit.
And the city has previously paid more than $300,000 to settle claims against one of the officers involved in Williams’s beating, the lawsuit contends.
“This has to stop because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to my grandchildren,” Williams said.
The second case was filed against nine NYPD officers and a lieutenant on behalf of another Bronxite Cheyenne Lee — of Black and Native American descent — who alleges that officers barged into her home on Dec. 3, 2021 without a warrant and proceeded to arrest her without basis when she asked them not to hurt her teenage nephew.
According to court documents, officers responded to a neighbor’s call about a domestic dispute in Lee’s apartment between her nephew — who the lawsuit claims suffers from serious mental health issues — and his father. However, when police arrived officers observed the father to be safe.
Lee alleges that three officers drew their tasers and approached the nephew’s bedroom, despite pleas from Lee to “not tase her child.” Police subsequently arrested Lee, but all charges were dismissed when officers failed to provide adequate rationale for the arrest and footage from their body camera contradicted the accounts from responding officers, according to court documents.
“Like everyone else, my family and I have the right to feel safe and secure in our own home, but the nine officers who broke into my house violated those rights,” Lee said. “The NYPD had no reason to barge into my house, arrest me, and terrorize my family. I begged them not to brutalize my nephew, and they punished me for it. I felt like they kidnapped me for standing up for our rights. This kind of treatment must not stand.”
In 2022, the city paid out $121 million as a result of police misconduct cases, the most in five years. The amount is a result of a small group of very expensive cases, including a $26 million settlement with a man wrongly accused of assassinating Malcolm X in 1965. Police misconduct cases accounted for about 60% of the settlements the NYPD paid out last year, according to an analysis of city data released last month by the Legal Aid Society.