Tonight marks the two-year anniversary of the night that NYPD brass dragged Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft from his apartment and forced him into the Jamaica Hospital Psychiatric Ward.–an episode which was the subject of the award-winning Village Voice series, “The NYPD Tapes.”
Schoolcraft alleged that commanders in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn were downgrading complaints to keep the crime statistics low. Three weeks after he reported these allegations to department investigators, police dragged him from his home on Halloween, 2009 and forced him into the Jamaica Hospital Psychiatric Ward for six days. (His precinct commander, by the way, was subsequently charged with tampering with crime reports and transferred–vindicating Schoolcraft’s allegations.)
So, as we were recalling that appalling episode today, who should walk through the doors of the Voice, but yet another New Yorker who tried to report a felony and saw police downgrade his complaint to a misdemeanor.
Zev Yourman, a Brighton Beach community activist, tells the Voice he was grabbed from behind and punched by an unknown assailant on July 25, 2010. The attack left marks and bruising on his arm. The assailant also threatened to kill him, before he was scared off by a passerby.
But when Yourman went to the 60th Precinct stationhouse in Coney Island later that day to report it, he says police treated his complaint like an annoyance.
First, he says, 60th Precinct officers made him wait for two hours before sending a cop to take his complaint. “There were cops there just hanging out, but no one would come talk to me,” he says.
Finally, an Officer Richard Santora brought him into an interview room to speak with him. Santora initially tried to dissuade him from taking the complaint. “I was in pain, and I showed him the marks on my arm,” he says. “He says something to the effect of ‘why are you bothering me with this. This is a nothing thing.'”
Yourman says he pointed to the marks on his arm, and Santora said, “That’s just harassment,” not assault or attempted robbery.
Finally, Santora took down the report, and Yourman left the precinct. On Aug. 3, 2010, he traveled by subway to police headquarters where he obtained a copy of the complaint. He was shocked by what Santora had written.
Not only had Santora listed Yourman as a female, he had classified the attack as harassment, a misdemeanor, instead of assault and attempted robbery. Even though he had seen the marks on Yourman’s arm, the officer wrote there were “no injuries.”
Perhaps more troublingly, two supervising sergeants in the precinct, Zahid and Sitro, had signed off on the Santora’s work.
Yourman filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The CCRB referred him back to the precinct. Eventually, Yourman got a call that October from a Sgt. Cohen. Their conversation was brief.
“He just said ‘we’re not going to change it,” Yourman says.
There’s no indication from documents that the 60th Precinct lifted a finger to investigate Yourman’s complaint.
The NYPD Patrol Guide states: “Proper complaint reporting is essential…Every member of the service involved in this process has a responsibility and obligation to ensure the integrity of this vital strategic resource.”
So, why would Santora misclassify the complaint, when it’s a violation of the patrol guide?
“Their motivation is downgrading the crime statistics so the precinct commander can get promoted,” Yourman says. “Look, if what I’m saying is false, they can arrest me for filing a false complaint. That’s their remedy.”
Even though he had been rebuffed, Yourman didn’t let the matter drop. Instead, acting as his own lawyer, he filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn court to compel the NYPD to change the complaint report. He attached a copy of one of the articles in the Voice series to bolster his claim that downgrading happens in the NYPD.
Rather than just change the report, the city decided to fight the lawsuit. Assistant Corporation Counsel Margot Miller took the curious position that the NYPD can classify incidents any way they want to, and there’s nothing in the laws and rules of the city that requires them to change their minds.
So what she’s saying basically is that if you get beat up, the police can call it harassment, not investigate it and that’s okay.
Miller goes on to parse the penal law and argue that despite what Yourman says, he was “harassed,” not the victim of an assault and attempted robbery.
Does Mayor Bloomberg really want that to be the message from City Hall?
Molloy College criminologist John Eterno, a former NYPD captain, says complaints have to be classified accurately to develop the information needed to fight crime.
“Clearly, they are violating their own rules, and they aren’t serving the public by downgrading these things,” he says. “This is another example of what is a citywide
problem. Moreover, filing a false report is a crime, even for a police officer. This might even rise to that level.”
A judge is currently considering Yourman’s motion to compel. But his story echoes that of dozens of other New Yorkers who have had similar problems with police taking their complaints. In January, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly appointed three former federal prosecutors to examine these complaints. He declared they would be finished with their work in June. To date, all we have is the sound of crickets.
Schoolcraft’s lawsuit, meanwhile, has been dragging its way through the courts. He claims police violated his civil rights. You can listen to the excellent This American Life segment on his ordeal here.