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NYPD misconduct, wrongful arrest lawsuit settlements cost NYC taxpayers $114.5 million in 2023

Bernhard Richter/Dreamstime/TNS

NEW YORK — Police misconduct lawsuits are a growing cost for New York City taxpayers, with city coffers paying out more than $100 million in each of the first two years of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration — often in wrongful conviction cases that are decades old, a Legal Aid Society analysis shows.

In 2023, the city shelled out $114.5 million to settle lawsuits alleging various kinds of police misconduct, compared to $135.3 million in 2022.

Between 2018 and 2021, the last four years of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the city’s annual payouts for police misconduct ranged from $76.4 million to $86.5 million.

From 2018 to 2023 — the last four years of de Blasio’s administration and the first two years of Adams’ administration — the city paid out $548 million in taxpayer money in settlements, the Legal Aid Society analysis found.

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“The staggering amount of money taxpayers have to foot each year to cover alleged NYPD misconduct truly shocks the conscience, and this should enrage all New Yorkers,” said Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at the Legal Aid Society.

“Reverse conviction cases” — commonly called wrongful convictions — are a main cause of the increase in payouts, said Nicholas Paolucci, a Law Department spokesman.

“The city has experienced an increase in reverse conviction cases stemming from incidents going as far back as the 1980s and 1990s,” Paolucci said. “Expeditious settlement of these cases avoids the risk of protracted and costlier litigation and provides some justice to people wrongfully convicted.”

But Joel Berger, a civil rights lawyer who previously worked for the Law Department, said the increase in settlements is a result of a higher rate of police misconduct, not a flood of overturned convictions.

“Under Mayor Adams the city isn’t paying out more in settlements because it’s becoming soft-hearted — just the opposite,” Berger said. “It’s paying more because there is more police misconduct and NYPD tolerance that encourages police misconduct, as the recent spike in CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board) complaints establishes.”

Civilian complaints rose by 51% in 2023 to 5,550 from 3,700 reported in 2022, figures published by the Civilian Complaint Review Board show. The 2023 complaint total was the highest in the past decade, the board said.

Berger’s view is the city is actually fighting police misconduct cases rather than settling them. “That results in larger settlements despite the Law Department’s best efforts to delay and obfuscate,” he said. “The taxpayers foot the bill because the city under Adams would rather pay out huge sums in lawsuits than fire — or at least severely discipline — officers.”

The three highest settlements in 2023 were for wrongful convictions — those of Carlton Roman, for $18 million, George Bell, for $17.5 million, and Emmanuel Cooper, for $10 million, the Legal Aid Society’s analysis showed.

Roman was exonerated in 2021 after serving 32 years in prison for the 1989 gun murder of a man named Lloyd Witter and the wounding a second man in Jamaica, Queens.

The wounded man and a second survivor, Paul Anderson, identified Roman as the shooter — but there was no other evidence linking him to the case. Anderson recanted in 2019 and previously gave six different versions of the incident to investigators.

Bell was released from prison in 2021 after a Queens judge tossed his conviction along with those of co-defendants Rohan Bolt and Gary Johnson for the 1996 murder of a business owner and an off-duty NYPD cop during a robbery.

That reversal turned on the fact that prosecutors had withheld key evidence at trial, a move Judge Joseph Zayas called “deliberate.”

Cooper spent 27 years in prison for the 1992 murder of subway token booth clerk Andres Barretto. His conviction was overturned in 2020 after it emerged that detectives may have threatened a key witness into identifying Cooper.

The Legal Aid Society cited several 2023 settlements in its analysis, including that of Jawaun Fraser, who was arrested for robbery on Oct. 21, 2014 by narcotics cops.

Fraser’s lawsuit alleged that two detectives, Matthew Regina and Jason Del Toro, falsely claimed he robbed an undercover officer of $20 in marked drug buy money and that Regina found the undercover officer’s ID on Fraser when he was arrested.

The NYPD and prosecutors failed to turn over the fact that members of the same narcotics team that previously been sued for faking evidence and other alleged misconduct 38 times, the society claimed.

Fraser spent two years in prison before the case was overturned by a judge who found authorities broke evidence rules. His lawsuit settled for $3.6 million on June 26, 2023.

Regina, one of the detectives, was named in 13 civilian complaints and four other lawsuits that brought $55,501 in settlements. Del Toro was previously named in a 2018 lawsuit that ended with a $60,000 settlement.

The NYPD deferred comment on the Legal Aid Society’s report to the Law Department. The city Comptroller’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.