En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Legal Services
Type: Media Coverage

No Cause for Arrest

The youngsters who were surrounded by New York City police officers
and arrested for no good reason while walking along a street in the
Bushwick section of Brooklyn nearly two years ago are being vindicated.

The
city has agreed to settle false arrest lawsuits brought by 16 of the
youngsters and will pay them from $9,000 to $23,000 each. The
settlement papers are expected to be signed by the youngsters on
Saturday, according to their lawyer, Michael Scolnick.

The
arrests and prosecution of the young people — more than 30 in all —
amounted to an outlandish abuse of police and prosecutorial power.
Police officers swooped in and arrested everyone in the group, boys and
girls and young men and women, ranging in age from 13 to their
early-20s.

They were not just arrested while walking peacefully
down a quiet street in broad daylight, but they were publicly
bad-mouthed by police officials and the Brooklyn district attorney. In
fact, the kids had done nothing wrong. They lacked even the normal
exuberance you might expect from a large group of young people. They
were grieving.

The youngsters had assembled in a park on May 21,
2007, and proceeded to walk toward a subway station. They were planning
to attend a wake for a friend who had been murdered in what the police
believed was a gang-related crime.

According to the police, the
group went on a rampage on a residential, tree-lined block of Putnam
Avenue. Top Police Department officials, including Commissioner Ray
Kelly, said the kids were yelling, blocking traffic and climbing on top
of parked cars.

The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes,
told a radio audience: “They were not just walking on one car; they
were trampling on all sorts of cars. It was almost as if they were
inviting their arrest.”

The only problem was that this rampage
never happened. No evidence was ever produced of the kids blocking
traffic (there was hardly any vehicular or pedestrian traffic on the
street), or of anyone clambering on top of cars. Witnesses who saw the
kids, including one man who used his cellphone to take photos of some
of them who were handcuffed on the sidewalk, said they had been
orderly, quiet and well behaved.

The arrests took place right
outside the first-floor windows of Greer Martin, a woman who spoke on
the record a few days after the arrests, despite her reluctance to have
her name printed in a newspaper, because she felt the police officers
had abused their power. “I was shocked beyond shock,” she told me. “My
windows were open, and it didn’t look like the kids had done anything
wrong.”

Leana Mejia, a student at John Jay College who was among
those arrested, said the cops were the ones out of control. “They
cursed us and pushed the guys,” she said. “And then they handcuffed us.
We kept asking, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

If the police or
prosecutors thought the kids would plead guilty to some minor offense
and go quietly on their way, they were mistaken. The kids fought back,
asserting their innocence and refusing to acquiesce in their
humiliation. The authorities stalled and some of the cases dragged on
for months, some for more than a year.

The prosecutors had nothing. Because the rampage was a fantasy.

One by one, the cases were dismissed. In some instances, the prosecutors themselves threw in the towel.

Diana
Rodriguez, an assistant D.A. in Mr. Hynes’s office, told me on Friday:
“As to some individual defendants, we felt we could not prove their
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So there were some cases that we on
our own moved to dismiss.”

Many of the youngsters sued, charging
that they were falsely arrested and illegally held at a local precinct
house, some of them for a day and a half.

In agreeing to settle
the lawsuits, the city refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing. But it
has agreed to pay from $20,000 to $23,000 to individuals who were held
in custody overnight and subjected to prolonged exposure to the
criminal justice system. Others, many of them younger, reportedly will
receive $9,000 each.

When asked to comment on the case, Mr.
Scolnick said: “My impression is that the bulk of our police officers
do what they are supposed to. On the other hand, what I have been told
by my clients is that their being stopped on the street merely for
being on the street is about as common an occurrence in their lives as
me getting up in the morning and brushing my teeth, and that’s pretty
outrageous.

“I can’t imagine that 32 young white people walking
down the streets of Scarsdale to pay their respects to a friend would
have been arrested that way.”