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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

NYPD won't charge some accused cops

The New York Daily News by TINA MOORE - April 8, 2008

Department records show that of the 296 cases substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, more than a third were closed because police officials refused to file charges. By comparison, just 3.3% of cases were rejected by the department advocate's office of the NYPD in 2006, 2.3% in 2005, 2.9% in 2004, 0.8% in 2003 and 3.9% in 2002, the records show. "This dramatic increase in the cases the NYPD is dumping clearly signals to the public and the CCRB that the department now believes it is free to ignore police misconduct," said Christopher Dunn, associate director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. NYPD officials said the increase could be attributed to more stringent standards when selecting cases to prosecute and the changing nature of the complaints.

"Many times the CCRB will substantiate allegations based solely on the civilian's version without any corroboration," Julie Schwartz, deputy commissioner of the department advocate's office, said in an e-mail. She said a growing number of the complaints were being generated by cops involved in more subjective stop-and-frisk cases. "This coincides with a dramatic decrease in the substantiated allegations of force, less than 2% in 2007, that are easier to prove," Schwartz wrote. One rejected case centered on Abubakar Dukuray, who said he was behind a Brooklyn bakery where he works tinkering with his car in July 2006 when cops pulled up and asked him to prove he owned the vehicle.

The 37-year-old immigrant from Sierra Leone said he displayed his keys and explained that he removed the plates after the 1993 Mitsubishi broke down. He didn't have the registration or title at hand, he said. "I'm not a thief. I work here," Dukuray said he told the cop who wanted to frisk him. "I've been working here 10 years." Minutes later, the cops handcuffed Dukuray and sprayed him in the face with Mace, he alleged later in a complaint. Dukuray was never charged. The civilian review board recommended the cops face discipline for physical force and improper use of pepper spray, a source familiar with the case said. The NYPD didn't prosecute.

Schwartz said since 2005, her office has been pursuing cases with a good chance of being successful. She said that has resulted in "a severe decline in the number of cases that need to be dismissed later or result in not guilty findings." Still, records show the percentage of convictions has dropped. The office won nine guilty verdicts out of 44 cases tried last year.

That 20% success rate was down from about 30% in past years, when roughly twice as many cases were tried. The NYPD data also show that the department meted out less serious discipline last year than in the previous five years. Of 171 cops who were disciplined as a result of CCRB cases last year, 163 were hit with a letter or command discipline - typically a loss of vacation days. Eight received more serious discipline - down from 17 in 2006 and 56 in 2004.

CCRB Chairwoman Franklin Stone said the department should try more cases. "The best way to resolve disputes of fact such as these is to put the case before an administrative judge, rather than dismiss them outright," she said. Dukuray still seethes over his experience. "I never thought something like this would happen to me in America," he said.

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