In the midst of the election season, a lone figure appeared to New Yorkers as a quotidian source of joy: Gregg T., a wonderfully unassuming New Yorker whom the MTA was complimenting for not only seeing something, but saying something. Memes were made. Tweets were composed. Vox even did an explainer. Some fun was had. Unfortunately, this is still 2016. There is no simple pleasure without deep, lasting pain.
Turns out, Gregg T. is actually Gregg Turkin, a lawyer currently working for the NYPD’s Legal Bureau. For the past year, Turkin has been trying to get Black Lives Matter protesters to admit that the NYPD had probable cause in arresting them before a judge can dismiss their case.
This is all part of a constitutionally dubious tactic the NYPD is using wherein the police department not only arrests protesters, but prosecutes them as well in summons court. Why? To get people to stop suing them so often for false arrests.
The Voice’s Nick Pinto laid out the situation in September, discussing a case where the NYPD tried to get two Black Lives Matter protesters, Arminta Jeffryes and Cristina Winsor, to admit that their summonses were proper so the NYPD could avoid a possible lawsuit.
“If police make an illegal arrest or summons, a common remedy is for the person improperly arrested or summonsed to sue the police,” Pinto wrote. “That happens, let us say, quite a bit: In the last five years, the city has paid out more than $837 million in lawsuits against the police. In the cases of Jeffryes and Winsor, the NYPD lawyers are offering to conditionally dismiss their charges, but only if they admit that the NYPD acted properly in summonsing them, effectively precluding them from filing civil suits against the police later.”
Turkin’s tactics against another BLM protester, Noelle Harris, were highlighted by the Daily News last January:
Turkin, a civilian lawyer — though he identified himself as a detective — was amenable to conditional dismissal of the summons, but only if Harris hinted at her guilt on the record.
“I would like an admission from Ms. Harris that we had probable cause to issue her a summons,” Turkin said.
Cohen declined on behalf of his client.
“I’m going to ask that the case be set over for trial, then, because the people are ready to proceed,” Turkin said, using language usually reserved for prosecutors. “I’m here to prosecute the case, Judge.”
Jeffrys and Winsor are now suing the NYPD for acting as policeman and prosecutor.
“People who use ‘snitch’ as a pejorative have joked that Mr. Turkin is a snitch, when in fact he is an actual cop to whom one might snitch,” said Gideon Oliver, the lawyer representing both Jeffrys and Winsor. “In the cases Mr. Turkin was involved in, he sought to extract admissions from Black Lives Matter protesters that the police had a good reason to arrest them, whether true or not. Such admissions would effectively shield his client, the NYPD, from liability in potential civil rights lawsuits down the road.”
Oliver says that tactic “is not something non-police prosecutors have ever sought before in ‘protest’ cases.”
He adds, “The ‘If you see something, say something’ campaign uncritically promotes snitch culture as a dogwhistle for Islamophobes, racists, and other bigots to inflict the government in the service of their prejudices and agendas on people I love and care about, including people I have represented in prosecutions. Since the campaign’s inception, the NYPD in particular has targeted Muslim, South Asians, Arab Americans, and others, for surveillance, prosecutions, and other harms. With all due respect to them, NYPD Legal Bureau lawyers should not be held up as heroes. In their place, I respectfully nominate the Black Lives Matter and other protesters who keep taking the streets – especially now.”
Calls to Turkin’s office were not answered, and an email reply from Turkin directed the Voice to the NYPD press office.