177 Livingston Street 7th Floor Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 254-0700 info@bds.org

News

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES RELEASES PUBLIC COMMENT OPPOSING THE ADOPTION OF NYPD’S DISCIPLINE MATRIX

September 29, 2020

Contact: Daniel Ball, Brooklyn Defender Services

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

Brooklyn Defender Services Releases Public Comment Opposing the Adoption of NYPD’s Discipline Matrix

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Today, Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Policy Counsel of Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement and public comment in response to the release of NYPD’s proposed Discipline Matrix policy:

“As people across this city and country come together to demand an end to police violence against Black people and other people of color, New York City responded with a proposed NYPD Discipline Matrix, which utterly fails to meet these demands. This proposal protects police officers, not the people of New York, and will have no meaningful impact on abuse suffered by New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD. The Discipline Matrix merely condenses and reorganizes the rules in the NYPD’s Patrol Guide, which has long failed to prevent or discourage police brutality and misconduct. We know, and this proposal shows, that the NYPD will never police itself.

New York needs truly binding measures of police accountability, not toothless matrices with massive loopholes that allow the NYPD to excuse abusive conduct. New York must also take legislative measures, such as eliminating mandatory minimums that protect rampant police misconduct by coercing people to take pleas rather than risk lengthy sentences. Finally, and most importantly, New York City must start divesting from law enforcement and invest in the needs of people who live here instead.”

Brooklyn Defender Services’ public comment to NYPD Commissioner Shea states: 

Brooklyn Defender Services submits these comments to the NYPD’s Proposed Discipline Matrix, published August 31, 2020. For the reasons set forth below, we strongly oppose adoption of the Matrix.

Every year, Brooklyn Defender Services (“BDS”) represents nearly 30,000 people in the criminal, family, and civil court systems of Kings County. Many of the people we serve, primarily Black and brown New Yorkers, have experienced abuse and misconduct by the NYPD. We at BDS have joined our communities in the call for meaningful, top-down change to the NYPD for years. We are now living in a seminal moment in history as police departments face demands from across the country to analyze long-standing abusive practices and the continued employment of perpetrators within their ranks. 

Amid calls for real reform, the NYPD has released a draft non-binding “Discipline Matrix” which defines prohibited police conduct and specifies potential penalties for personnel who engage in misconduct. However, this purportedly new document merely reiterates preexisting guidance that has consistently failed to rein in abusive police behavior. Crucially, under the proposal, the NYPD remains responsible for enforcing its own rules—which it has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to do—and the Police Commissioner retains veto power over any and all disciplinary actions per City law.  We do not believe that essentially condensing the existing Patrol Guide into a 53-page Matrix will have any meaningful impact on abuse suffered by New Yorkers at the hands of the NYPD. Despite a demonstrated need for change, the Department instead makes it clear, once again, that it plans to continue to condone and defend a pervasive culture of abuse and violence while codifying ways for police to evade accountability.

The Patrol Guide is a publicly available document that purportedly governs police conduct by defining prohibited conduct and disciplinary actions that may be taken against offending personnel. However, anyone who has experienced police behavior in New York City understands that these “rules” do not prevent or meaningfully discourage policy brutality and misconduct. Alarmingly, efforts to enhance transparency and accountability, including increased video surveillance of police conduct, have done little to counteract violence and abuse that far too often goes unchecked and unpunished. In the past several months alone, countless instances of police violence captured on video, when the officers know they are being recorded, clearly demonstrate that the existing rules and protections are inadequate. Officers with highly publicized histories of misconduct not only remain on the job making arrests but are promoted through the ranks. This is unlikely to change if the arbiter of police discipline remains the NYPD itself. 

The Matrix reflects Patrol Guide language, sometimes verbatim. For example, the Patrol Guide governs use of force (221-01 and 221-02), requires NYPD personnel to intervene during instances of excessive force by other officers (221-02), and has strict reporting requirements (221-03). These rules are on the books but do little to curb obvious, persistent, and often recorded violations of these rules by NYPD personnel, and reforms have historically been disregarded by the Department. The chokehold ban went into effect in 1993 after the police killed 21-year-old Federico Pereira in Queens, but police have repeatedly been seen on video using prohibited chokeholds on New Yorkers. Even though the body-worn camera (“BWC”) program, launched after the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests, requires officers to have their cameras turned on during almost all encounters with civilians, BWCs are routinely obstructed or turned off.  The Right to Know Act was enacted in 2018, yet police often conceal their badge numbers and refuse to give required information to the public. 

While the stated goal of the Matrix is to provide transparency and efficiency in the accountability process, it ultimately is little more than a theoretical possibility—it states what penalties could be imposed, is non-binding, and does not present a solution to ongoing disregard for existing Department policies. This stated commitment to transparency is clearly apocryphal; since the repeal of 50-A, which shielded police personnel files from public view, the NYPD has engaged in an ongoing court battle to fight the release of any and all NYPD disciplinary records. 

The Matrix, like the Patrol Guide and previous attempts at police reform, also includes major loopholes allowing the NYPD to excuse abusive conduct using myriad mitigating factors. The mitigation language incorporates racist presumptions that underpin brutal policing, raising their profile from mostly unspoken understandings to Department-sanctioned excuses. For example, excessive force may be excused if an officer claims that a person was “apparently under the influence of a stimulant or narcotic which would affect pain tolerance,” with no requirement for the officer to be factually correct. The subject’s “size, age and condition” compared to the officer may also be considered. In these two factors alone, the Matrix manages to codify historically race-based presumptions about drug use, pain tolerance, age, and strength into official NYPD code. This loaded language has been used throughout American history to justify racist, deadly, and abusive policing, and the NYPD has made it part of its 2020 platform. 

Additional mitigating factors are also familiar to defenders and anyone who has been charged with criminal conduct in attempts by police to excuse their own abuse or misconduct. Police allegations that a person made furtive movements, that a crowd gathered, that a situation was tense, or that they resisted arrest by moving any part of their body, among other claims, would continue to help officers evade accountability.

Any attempt to rein in the police without significant cuts to budget and personnel—beginning with those who have already committed “prohibited” conduct—as well as independent oversight with disciplinary powers, and binding conduct requirements will not change a Department with a long history of abuse, misconduct and unaccountability, particularly against Black and brown communities. The Matrix also notes that police may face both civil and criminal actions for egregious misconduct, but every dollar of civil lawsuit settlements are paid by NYC residents and criminal actions filed by prosecutors against police can only be described as exceedingly rare. We have every reason to believe, based on past experience and the ongoing public words and actions of the NYPD and its unions, that this program will merely pacify some critics while maintaining the status quo.

Lastly, the Department’s effort to ram through this Matrix in 30 days—without adequate time for public analysis and comment—just reiterates that this flawed process is little more than a facade designed to mask recycled policies that have already proven to be ineffective. This is an unacceptable tactic, particularly at a time when gathering stakeholder input is more difficult than ever and the public is demanding an open, effective, comprehensive process that results in meaningful change. The Department’s fundamentally flawed process will inevitably yield ineffective results and only exacerbate the significant harms done to New Yorkers.  

Simply put, this Discipline Matrix has failed to incorporate the transformative changes community members have been demanding. The NYPD will never police itself.”

News

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON THE PASSING OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG

September 23, 2020

Contact: Jared Chausow, jchausow@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON  THE PASSING OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG

(Brooklyn, NY) — Today, Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement in response to the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Today we mourn the loss of a trailblazer and pioneer. In true Brooklyn form, Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not take ‘no’ for an answer and broke barriers her entire life. As a Supreme Court Justice, an effective advocate, a feminist, wife, and mother, and a powerful voice against the status quo, Justice Ginsburg opened doors for countless others. She is breaking a boundary one last time as the first woman in the history of our country to lie in state in the United States Capitol. As she does, our country grieves a brilliant and fair jurist and a role model for women, civil rights lawyers, and all people who believe that a fair and equitable society is possible and worth fighting for. The model of advocacy that she pursued, asking the courts to think differently, to push boundaries and preconceived ideas about the structure of society followed by her willingness to see the world as it could be in her position on the Supreme Court—those are the qualities, values, and attitudes that embody the essence of public defenders. We can all learn from her tenacity, her vision, her insistence that justice can be obtained through the courts, from her very hope and faith that things can be more fair, more just, more equitable. The best way to honor her legacy is for each of us to imagine a better world and pursue it with all we have and to stand by our own convictions, values, and beliefs no matter what.”

News

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON NYPD’S MASS ARRESTS AT PROTEST AGAINST ICE ATROCITIES

September 22, 2020

Contact: Jared Chausow, jchausow@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON NYPD’S MASS ARRESTS AT PROTEST AGAINST ICE ATROCITIES 

(Brooklyn, NY) — Today, Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Policy Counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement in response to NYPD making mass arrests at a mid-day protest in Times Square against ICE’s human rights abuses:

“This past weekend, the NYPD continued its escalation against the people of New York City who exercise their right to protest racist state violence. Despite its self-proclaimed restraint and training in de-escalation, the Department is only growing more violent and unaccountable, apparently emboldened by its leadership and by a federal government that encourages its abuse of New Yorkers. Such unconstitutional attempts to silence dissent by the NYPD are not new, but as they increase in frequency and severity we believe it has never been more clear that our City must divest from policing and invest in real community safety. We join with protesters in calling for the abolition of ICE and we urge the Manhattan District Attorney to drop all charges stemming from these arrests.”

News

STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE OF BDS’ DETAINED DEPORTATION DEFENSE TEAM ON IRWIN DETENTION CENTER WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT

September 16, 2020

 

Contact: Daniel Ball, dball@bds.org 

 

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-IN-CHARGE OF BDS’ DETAINED DEPORTATION DEFENSE TEAM

 ON IRWIN DETENTION CENTER WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT

 

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Andrea Sáenz, Attorney-in-Charge of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) for Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement about allegations of medical neglect and human rights violations raised by whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the ICE detention center, Irwin Detention Center in Georgia:

“The accounts of torture and neglect at the Irwin Detention Center detailed by whistleblower Dawn Wooten are horrifying but sadly not shocking. From forced sterilization of immigrant women to life-threatening conditions that further the spread of COVID-19, these revelations once again demonstrate that the federal government continues to subject vulnerable people to inhumane, intolerable conditions. 

As attorneys representing detained immigrants in the New York City area, we know these types of atrocities happen at the over 200 ICE detention facilities across the country, including the jails where immigrants we represent are detained in New York and New Jersey. The people we represent have long reported dangerous, unsafe and negligent conditions, only exacerbated by the pandemic, including extreme isolation, lack of basic sanitation, and being denied adequate medical, mental health, and dental care and procedures. Across the country, immigrants in detention have resorted to hunger strikes to protest detention conditions.  

Immigrants do not need to be incarcerated as they fight their deportation cases. They can live and work in their communities where they can better support their families, and access counsel and evidence for their cases. We reaffirm our calls for ICE to cease raids and free all immigrants from their jails to allow them to remain safely with their families. We must end ICE detention and abolish ICE.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for tens of thousands of people in Brooklyn every year.  Since the pandemic struck, BDS’ New York Immigrant Family Unity Project has taken successful legal action forcing ICE to release 75% of all the detained immigrants we serve.

###

News

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON MAYOR DE BLASIO’S COMMENTS ON THE ARRESTS OF SEX WORKERS

September 2, 2020

Contact: Dan Ball, dball@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON MAYOR DE BLASIO’S COMMENTS ON THE ARRESTS OF SEX WORKERS

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Jillian Modzeleski, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement on comments made by Mayor de Blasio today that sex workers should not be arrested. His comments followed the City’s $5.6 million settlement in the death of Layleen Polanco in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, where she was detained pre-trial on prostitution and other charges. 

“It is long past time we dispel the myth that people arrested on prostitution charges, nearly all of whom are Black, Latinx and Asian transgender and cisgender women, are ‘rescued’ by police officers and benefit from being arrested and prosecuted or placed into court-ordered diversion programs. The Mayor’s comments today suggest he agrees that the City should end the arrests of people who do sex work, and we hope he follows through with action. At the same time, we must dispel the other myths that NYPD focuses on traffickers, which is belied by arrest data, and that criminalization keeps people safe. The Mayor apparently supports the Nordic Model, which decriminalizes the sale of sexual services while continuing to criminalize the promotion and purchase of services. However, our experience shows law enforcement’s distinction between people who engage in sex work and people who organize and profit from—or ‘promote’—it is a false binary, as the same people are arrested for either charge. The people who organize sex work are often sex workers. Moreover, the Nordic Model stigmatizes and criminalizes many parts of the sex work industry and continues to put people who engage in sex work at grave risk. Real change means disbanding the Vice Squad, which has engaged in abusive policing for decades, ending arrests for sex work, and ultimately decriminalizing the sale and purchase of sexual services, and it must come now.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for tens of thousands of people in Brooklyn every year. BDS’ Human Trafficking Intervention Unit seeks to protect sex workers and victims of trafficking from the punitive nature of criminal legal system contact and provide meaningful services for those who are criminalized.