Category Archives: Law

NYCLU files lawsuit seeking access to info about police shootings

The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the NYPD last week to obtain more information and facts about police shootings. The organization is seeking access to two internal police reports: one prepared immediately after a shooting of a civilian, and the other, a more detailed report completed within a few months of the incident.

The NYCLU has filed multiple Freedom of Information Law requests over the last three years—since police shot and killed an unarmed Sean Bell in Queens in November 2006—seeking annual statistical reports about shootings since 1996, as well as data on the race of the victim. The police department produced the reports, but stopped releasing information about race after the 1998 report, at about the time officers shot and killed an unarmed Amadou Diallo in the Bronx in February 1999. Nearly nine out of ten shooting victims in 1996 and 1997 were black or Latino.

Also last week, The New York Times reported that the NYPD released a report showing police officers fired their guns about 16 percent less last year than the previous year. The police report also said that 97 percent of the shooting victims in 2008 were black or Latino.

Despite the year-to-year drop in police gunfire, over the weekend, three officers fatally shot a teenager in Queens 11 times. Police said they spotted 18-year-old Dashawn Vasconcellos and two others leave a city park after hours and a chase ensued. The officers fired 14 rounds after they said Vasconcellos pointed a 9mm semiautomatic pistol at them.

Meanwhile, the NYCLU also says that the NYPD is on track to stop a record number of New Yorkers this year, according to new stop-and-frisk data. The organization says if the current pace continues, 535,000 innocent New Yorkers will have been stopped and interrogated by police by the year’s end.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Criminal Justice, Law, NYC, Race

Documentary film about lawyer William Kunstler opens in New York

KUNSTLER_Emily_Sarah_2008_Disturbingtheuniverse_0_posterThis weekend, the documentary film, “Disturbing the Universe,” about self-described radical lawyer William Kunstler, has its New York City premiere at Cinema Village. The film, directed and produced by two of his daughters, Emily and Sarah, for their production company, Off Center Media (which produces documentaries exposing injustice in the criminal justice system), takes a personal look at a man who was known for representing often controversial defendants from the Civil Rights era until his death in 1995. The film was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’ve seen some excerpts in an interview with Emily and Sarah Kunstler on Democracy Now!. One of the defendants that Bill Kunstler represented was one of the alleged teenage suspects in the Central Park Jogger case from 1989. Yusef Salaam (who is interviewed in the film) was convicted and spent more than five years in prison for a crime he did not commit (he was exonerated in 2002 when the actual attacker confessed and matched a DNA sample).

The Central Park Jogger case was infamous in 1989 and shock and outrage followed the arrests of the teens. Headlines referred to them as a “wolfpack.” As the teens were convicted in the court of public opinion, Kunstler decided to take the case, as he had taken many others in the past. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see Salaam be exonerated.

Yesterday, news came from the Justice Department that a number of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be brought to New York to face trial in a civilian court. This news has caused the same, if not more, hyperbolic reaction that the Central Park Jogger case did 20 years ago. So I wonder if Bill Kunstler, if he were still alive today, would have represented Mohammed, the self-proclaimed terrorist and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. I think, considering he represented the so-called Blind Sheikh for his role in the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center, that Kunstler would. But maybe not. Speaking in 1970 on why he didn’t represent right-wing groups, he said, “I only defend those whose goals I share. I’m not a lawyer for hire. I only defend those I love.” It is true though, that in later years, he would take on cases when he felt a defendant was convicted before the case reached the courtroom. Clearly then, he was a principled advocate who believed in the rule of law, the legal justice system, and the rights of all, no matter how controversial, despised or hated.

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Criminal Justice, Law, Media/Journalism, NYC

Police panel to look through lawsuits for bad apples in blue

The New York City Police Department has put together a review panel to look through civil lawsuits that allege police misconduct in order to find out if cops are committing perjury, or are involved in corruption or other wrongdoing. This, all according to the Daily News.

According to the report, in fiscal year 2008, the city paid out $103 million to settle lawsuits against the NYPD. This figure includes $35 million to settle lawsuits that specifically alleged misconduct.

Apparently this panel will increase accountability among the ranks; under the old system, if an individual sued for false arrest, and it comes out in the lawsuit that the officer had lied under oath, the police department might never find out. The city’s Law Department handles settling suits — which sometimes saves the city money by not going to trial — and the NYPD is not involved. Now, with the creation of this police panel, that will change.

But some civil liberties advocates say that this move doesn’t go far enough. In the article, Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the NYCLU, says that the panel will not being looking at “nuisance” cases — those suits that are settled for small amounts, usually $10,000 or $20,000 — and that this will undermine the whole effort by the department to root out the bad apples in blue.

It’s interesting that this news is becoming public just days after the re-election of Mayor Mike Bloomberg to the third term. The police union endorsed Bloomberg this year — and the kind of review committee talked about here is not something the union would likely favor.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, Law, NYC

Mayoral candidates talk about stop-and-frisk at debate

AP

Courtesy: AP

Police in the U.S. stop more than one million people on the street each year. Civil liberties critics say that the stop-and-frisk tactic employs racial profiling. It’s hard to argue with the numbers—most stops are of black and Latino men. The New York City Police Department is a staunch defender of the practice and out of the million stops cited by the AP, the NYPD will be responsible for about 600,000 of them by year’s end.

Therefore it was no surprise that at the mayoral debate last Tuesday evening (see 45:30 in NY1 video), the issue of NYPD tactics under Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up when the Daily News’ Adam Lisberg asked challenger and current Comptroller Bill Thompson to clarify his position with regard to the stop-and-frisk policy.

I was at the debate along with two of my colleagues (check out Lindsay Lazarski’s post re: education) and my ears perked up when I heard Lisberg’s question.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Criminal Justice, Law, NYC, Politics, Race

Rockefeller drug law reforms go into effect

David Paterson NYCNew York’s Gov. David Paterson may be ridiculously unpopular these days, but if anything, his legacy will include accomplishing something that no one could for over 30 years: reforming the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

The governor visited Brooklyn’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to mark the day the reforms, through a deal reached in Albany last March, went into effect.

“Today is a day for second chances,” Gov. Paterson said to a crowd gathered in the Kings County courtroom.

Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, was there and lavished praise on the governor:

Governor Paterson deserves thanks and praise for getting the job done. He has been instrumental and worked tirelessly, first as a state senator from Harlem and then as governor, to make these reforms happen.

But Papa still said much needs to be done:

Now that the laws have been reformed, we have to make sure the changes are done right. Advocates and service providers have jumped in and have been working diligently to prepare for implementation.

The revisions to the law, signed by Paterson in April, now gives judges the option of sending nonviolent offenders to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs rather then sending them to jail. Under the old laws, there were mandatory minimums of 15 years to life, even for first-time offenders. The law that went into effect on Wednesday will also allow lawyers for nonviolent offenders to file petitions to judges for resentencing, although no one is guaranteed this chance. Each case—and advocates estimate there may be up to 1,000 incarcerated individuals eligible—will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Criminal Justice, Law, Politics

Federal Shield Law Approved by House Panel

A law that protects journalists from having to reveal the identities of their confidential sources was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. Next step: the bill will be sent to the House, where it is expected to pass. What is unclear is whether the bill has enough support to pass in the Senate. A similar bill died there last year after former President George W. Bush threatened a veto, citing national security concerns. President Obama was a sponsor of the shield bill when he was an Illinois senator.

To learn more about the federal shield law, see this post I wrote when I live-blogged from a forum on the issue sponsored by the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

Leave a comment

Filed under Law, Media/Journalism, Politics

Lawsuits filed for alleged RNC police misconduct

More than 800 people were arrested at last year’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Now, many are filing lawsuits alleging misconduct on the part of St. Paul police and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department. It is the first major action taken since last September’s convention.

Also, during the the week of the RNC, nearly 50 journalists were arrested while attempting to cover the protests in the streets outside the Xcel Center. Be sure to read this article I wrote about the 2008 RNC that addresses the legal restrictions of newsgathering at demonstrations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Activism, Criminal Justice, Law, Media/Journalism