A federal judge blasted the New York Police Department and New York City’s attorneys for withholding evidence in a police misconduct lawsuit and failing to investigate allegations that a woman was brutally beaten in a Queens precinct. The "truly outrageous conduct” by the police department and its attorneys motivated the judge to recommend sanctions against New York City, she wrote in a court order filed late Wednesday.
After the NYPD and its lawyers spent the past two years failing to follow her directives to turn over evidence, Judge Cheryl Pollak of the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn urged that the lawsuit be terminated in the alleged victim’s favor. The judge noted that such a severe step is highly unusual, but said the conduct of the NYPD and the city's attorneys left her little choice. She said she hoped her order would serve as a warning to the city and the NYPD, and encourage them to review their policies for investigating civil rights allegations.
Lawyers for the city said they acted entirely properly and disagree with the judge’s order.
The case stems from a January 2015 incident in which Rosie Martinez, a housekeeper at the time, said she was taken into custody and brought to the 107th Precinct in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing. At the station, she claims that two officers choked her, hit her in the face, and bent her fingers back, causing lasting damage to one of her hands, all because she didn’t give them the answers they wanted about a drug operation that she claims she had nothing to do with.
A year later, Martinez sued New York City and the NYPD, alleging civil rights violations. In her report, Judge Pollak points out that since the case was opened in January 2016, she has ordered the attorneys representing the accused officers to produce police reports, medical records, investigation files, and other relevant documents 14 times.
The judge said that repeated delays and incomplete production of evidence led the case to drag on, leaving the victim and her attorneys “chasing their tail” in an effort to obtain information critical to proving their case. For instance, it took a year to get photos of the officers working at the precinct that night in order for Martinez to make an identification of the officers she claimed assaulted her.
In a bizarre twist, on the eve of a deadline to hand over the evidence or risk sanctions, the officers’ attorneys presented thousands of pages of documents for the first time, including several internal affairs investigations. Throughout the case, the city’s lawyers had repeatedly denied any such investigations had taken place. None of the 11 officers who were interviewed under oath ever mentioned them, raising questions, the judge said, about whether there was "a failure to conduct even the most superficial investigation" or if "counsel was deliberately not informed due to a cover-up perpetrated by the NYPD officers from the precinct."
During a January court hearing, the judge berated the officers’ attorneys. One of those attorneys told Judge Pollak the city takes its obligations to investigate and hand over required documents “seriously.” “Really?” she snapped back at them. “Are you kidding me?”
Pollak added that “in 20-some years” as a judge she has “never seen such a dereliction of duty” and wondered if there might be a “blatant cover-up” in this case.
Pollak’s recommendation that the case be terminated in Martinez’s favor needs the approval of a district court judge before it can be carried out. On Thursday, the district court scheduled a hearing for March 1 to hear arguments from both sides on how to move forward. Lawyers for Martinez declined to comment.
Prior to Pollak issuing her report, Martinez filed an amended complaint alleging that the police “went to great lengths to cover up their misconduct,” including the creation of a false police report and the destruction of documents.
The NYPD referred all questions to the New York City Law Department. A spokesperson for that department, Nicholas Paolucci, said, “We take our discovery obligations very seriously and our attorneys have acted in good faith throughout this litigation to promptly produce all information known to them at the time. We will vigorously oppose this recommendation which we believe is not supported by the record.”