NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City shelled out more than $121 million to settle NYPD misconduct cases last year, including $12 million for a man who spent more than two decades in prison for a killing he was later exonerated of, according to city records provided by the nonprofit Legal Aid Society.
The city also settled a case for nearly $4 million and more than a dozen other cases cost taxpayers $2 million each, the data showed. In total for 2022, the city paid $121,376,162 for NYPD actions — about $34 million more than the previous year.
Pablo Fernandez was convicted of a homicide in 1996 and spent 24 years in prison before the case was dismissed last May, according to his lawyers. The suit claimed cops coached witnesses to falsely incriminate Fernadez during the trial. The case was then settled for $12 million, the largest-ever wrongful conviction settlement in the city, Fernadez’s lawyers said.
Austin Babb won his appeal after he was convicted by a jury of attempted murder in 2014, according to federal court records. The cop in the case, Steven Smith, who is now retired, was accused of botching a photo array that led to a witness identifying Babb as the shooter, the documents said. The case was settled for $3.95 million in September.
New York City recently reached a $135,000 settlement with a homeless man who was beaten and maced by police on a train in Manhattan, officials said in early January.
Officers Adonis Long and Shimul Saha confronted the man, identified only as Joseph, because he was taking up more than one seat in a largely empty subway car in May 2020. Body camera video later showed police punching Joseph, dragging him off the train, throwing him to the floor, and pepper spraying him.
“I’m having a panic attack, please,” Joseph said at the time. “I’m sorry. Please, guys, you’re killing me.”
The man was initially charged with resisting arrests before the charges were upgraded to felony assault in court. The charges against Joseph were later dropped.
Former NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea did not discipline Long and Saha, who are still employed by the NYPD.
“Rampant NYPD misconduct continues to cost New Yorkers tens of millions of dollars each year, and [NYPD] Commissioner Keechant Sewell’s entrenched resistance to meaningful accountability means many of the officers involved in these lawsuits likely received a mere slap on the wrist, if any discipline at all,” Maggie Hadley, a legal fellow with The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement on Thursday.
A spokesperson for the city Law Department said the agency makes recommendations in the cases but is not part of the police discipline process. The law requires the department to publish data about NYPD misconduct cases.
“In recent years, district attorneys have moved to vacate many more criminal cases going back dozens of years which have led to an increase in the number of reverse conviction suits and related payouts. We are committed to promptly reviewing matters to keep litigation costs down and to provide some measure of justice to plaintiffs who were wrongfully convicted,” said Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the Law Department.
The NYPD said the decision to settle the cases and for how much is up to Law Department and the New York City Comptroller’s Office.
“The NYPD often engages in dialogue with the NYC Law Department as it relates to police action lawsuits That collaboration has helped to reduce the number of lawsuits and claims being filed against this Department as well as reduce the payouts for both. While the decision to settle a lawsuit and for how much remains with the Law Department and the Comptroller, the NYPD actively seeks out information learned from these lawsuits in order to improve officer performance and enhance training or policy, where necessary,” a DCPI spokesperson said.
Additionally, a DCPI spokesperson said that nearly 60% of the $121 million paid out is attributable to seven wrongful conviction cases that settled for $68 million.
“Those seven cases date back to events that occurred between 1965 and 2010. Of the lawsuits that were filed and disposed of in 2022, total payouts amount to $16.8M, of which $13M is attributable to one wrongful conviction case from 1965. The remaining $3.8M, makes up a less than 1.4%, of the payouts identified in this report (totaling $262.7M) and over 96% of that amount is attributable to police actions that occurred under previous administrations,” a DCPI spokesperson said.