NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — The city paid out more than $121 million across 939 lawsuits alleging police misconduct in 2022 — the highest amount in at least five years, according to a Legal Aid Society analysis of city data on Thursday.
The true amount is likely higher, because the data does not include payouts that the New York City Comptroller’s office doled out before victims filed suit.
The total number of lawsuits was also higher in 2022 year than in 2021 or 2020. In 2021, the city paid alleged victims for 932 lawsuits and 753 payouts were issued the year before.
The NYPD claimed the cost of lawsuits in 2022 was dragged up by six payouts over $10 million costing $73 million total.
"Nearly 60% of the total $121 million paid out in CY2022 is attributable to seven wrongful conviction cases that settled for $68 million. Those seven cases date back to events that occurred between 1965 and 2010," said an NYPD spokesperson in a statement.
"Of the lawsuits that were filed and disposed of in 2022, total payouts amount to $16.8 million, of which $13 million is attributable to one wrongful conviction case from 1965," the spokesperson added. "The remaining $3.8M, makes up a less than 1.4%, of the payouts identified in this report (totaling $262.7 million) and over 96% of that amount is attributable to police actions that occurred under previous administrations."
The 1965 case the NYPD mentioned refers to the exoneration of two men imprisoned for over 20 years for the assassination of Malcolm X. The NYPD and FBI withheld evidence that would have exonerated them to secure their convictions.
Due to the time-consuming nature of lawsuits against the police, it's common for resolutions to come years after the incident in question. The NYPD's note about almost all of the lawsuits taking place under a previous administration is therefore unsurprising given the fact that Mayor Eric Adams took office in 2021.
NYPD officers have immunity from contributing to settlements or damages in lawsuits they are named in if the alleged misconduct happened on the job.
The Mayor's Office of Management and Budget allocates funds for lawsuit payouts, so when police get sued, that money doesn’t come from the officers nor the police budget, which was $10.4 billion in the 2022 fiscal year.
Since officers don't pay out of pocket for lawsuits against them, the main risk for violating New Yorkers’ rights is discipline. The NYPD has no immediate financial risk for keeping repeat offenders on the force, because the police budget isn’t tied to lawsuit payouts.
“Rampant NYPD misconduct continues to cost New Yorkers tens of millions of dollars each year, and Commissioner Keechant Sewell’s entrenched resistance to meaningful accountability means many of the officers involved in these lawsuits likely received a mere slap on the wrist, if any discipline at all,” said Maggie Hadley, a Legal Aid Society fellow.
In one 2022 settlement, body camera footage showed officers Adonis Long and Shimul Saha punching and pepper spraying a homeless man in the face before dragging him from a subway car. The officers then charged the man with felony assault using an alleged false report.
The city paid the victim a $135,000 settlement, but both officers are still employed by the NYPD.
Long had nine allegations of misconduct filed against him with the Civilian Complaint Review Board before the incident with the homeless man.
The CCRB had substantiated an allegation of excessive force eight months before the attack on the train and had recommended discipline, but the NYPD declined to take any action against the officer.
“Officers who commit egregious or persistent acts of misconduct should not wear a badge or carry a gun, and the Department’s continued refusal to hold problematic officers accountable only perpetuates the culture of impunity that thrives at precincts throughout New York City,” said Hadley.
A spokesperson for the New York City Law Department said the decision of district attorneys to vacate old criminal cases for wrongful convictions or outdated laws drove up the cost of lawsuits against police in 2022.
“In recent years, district attorneys have moved to vacate many more criminal cases going back dozens of years which have led to an increase in the number of reverse conviction suits and related payouts,” the spokesperson told the New York Daily News. “We are committed to promptly reviewing matters to keep litigation costs down and to provide some measure of justice to plaintiffs who were wrongfully convicted.”
The NYPD did not immediately return 1010 WINS' request for comment. Neither did the Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents NYPD officers.
Legal Aid Society staff attorney Jennvine Wong told the New York Times that the resolution of lawsuits filed during the 2020 racial justice protests following the murder of George Floyd could have contributed to the high price tag.
The CCRB substantiated 267 allegations of misconduct across 145 incidents during the protests and recommended the highest level of discipline in about 60% of cases. It is ultimately the decision of NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell whether or not the officers face consequences for their misconduct.