Is NYPD Running Wild? Patterns of Brutality Raise Questions About Mayor's Control of Police
A series of incidents last year, in some cases where police broke the law, has sullied the reputation of the NYPD. From the department’s handling of Occupy protesters and journalists, to officers’ participation in illegal gun sales and a ticket-fixing scandal, to rape charges and reports that allege the targeting of Muslims, the NYPD’s pattern of abuse, law-breaking, and poor judgment is raising questions about whether some of New York’s finest are operating as rogue units. A disturbing series of events, including beatings and the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in the Bronx, are causing some to wonder whether Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are condoning the behavior or are unable to impose discipline on the department.
Along with the patterns of violence, new reports show that stop-and-frisk rates went through the roof in 2011, making it a record-breaking year for the controversial practice. Stop-and-frisks may only legally be used when police have reasonable suspicion someone has a gun, but they are widely abused, and have been targeted as the source of aggressive, race-based policing and what many consider to be illegal marijuana arrests.
So far, 2012 has proven no better. Already, six NYPD officers have already been stripped of their badges and placed on modified duty for their involvement in two incidents that took place early this year. On January 26, Bronx NYPD officers beat 19-year-old Jateik Reed after allegedly seeing him hold drugs. Jateik Reed was with two friends at the time of his arrest. For one of them, the beating was his introduction to police brutality.
In a previously unreported connection, a man named Will, who did not give his last name, was arrested and allegedly roughed up with Reed's family when they want to the police department to inquire about Reed on the day of his beating.
One week later, while Jateik Reed was still locked up, cops gunned down 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, making him the third young black man killed by the NYPD in one week. Graham's grandmother and 6-year-old brother were inside the apartment where he was fatally shot. Police say they shot Graham, who was unarmed, while pursuing a small-time pot arrest. Will says he is Ramarley Graham's cousin.
Video of Reed’s arrest shows shocking brutality: Police kick, stomp, and hit Reed with night sticks as he cries for help, slamming him against a wall and beating him even after he falls to the ground outside of his home. His mother says the injuries required four stitches in his arm, and two in his head.
I first met up with Reed’s friends and neighbors on 168th and Third Ave. Standing where Reed was beaten, witnesses explained what they saw on the 26th. But perhaps more telling than their accounts of Reed's beating are stories from their day-to-day lives. For this group of teenagers, being arrested for trespassing in their own buildings, or biting their tongues as an officer puts his or her hands down their pants during a stop-and-frisk, is nothing shocking. Reed's beating was the climactic culmination of a long history of police harassment.
Police stopped Reed after allegedly seeing him ditch marijuana and crack cocaine. Next, they allege, he punched and headbutted an officer, opening a wound that required stitches. Witnesses say they never saw police recover any kind of contraband from Reed, and no one has been able to confirm police reports that Reed headbutted a police officer.
Allegations of abusive behavior that occurred following Reed's arrest raise questions about police intimidation. In addition to the death of Ramarley Graham and arrest of the Reed family, a neighbor who witnessed the beating, Javin James, told AlterNet that police entered his home and beat him after other cops arrested Jateik Reed.
Twenty-year-old Trevor, who did not want to give his last name, is a friend and neighbor of Jateik Reed’s. He filmed the video that helped bring attention to Reed's case.
Standing in the spot where Reed was beaten, Trevor told me that he, Reed, and Will “were coming home from the store, and they just stopped us for no real reason.” Returning from the corner deli, they had walked about a half-block over to the building where Reed and Trevor live.
“I told them we’re coming home -- it’s not like we’re hanging here just to hang here -- and they come out of the paddy wagon, frisk us,” Trevor told me. He said he was standing in the alcove in front of his apartment, unable to see Reed, when the officer searching him hurried away. Then, he said, “They just jumped on my friend, started beating him. I got nervous and pulled out my camera, recorded the whole situation."
At one point, the video Trevor filmed shows an officer approach him with mace. “I guess he didn’t want to be seen,” said Trevor, who said he and Will were both hit with a small stream of mace.
Eighteen-year-old Garnell also watched the arrest and beating from across the street.
“The cops were talking to Jateik,” he told me, while another cop was in the street. “He said something, I’m not sure what. And then you see them start trying to frisk him, put him on the floor.”
But Garnell, who like other boys in the neighborhood have been stopped by the cops regularly for years, said this time was different.
“They were trying to shove him down, but they weren’t trying to do it using their skills. They were trying to do it forcefully, like harm him,” he explained, “They weren’t trying to get him into hand cuffs. They were trying to get him on the floor and really beat him.”
“He was yelling out ‘Help me, help me!’’ said Garnell, but “There’s nothing I could’ve done about that because if I had jumped in, they would’ve beat me too.”
Neither Garnell, Trevor, nor James could identify what cut the officer’s nose.
“I don’t even know why they started getting violent,” said Garnell, “I know they harass us all the time, though, just for being out here. They harass us all the time.”
“There’s been plenty of times he got arrested or stopped, and nothing like that ever happened,” Jateik Reed's 17-year-old brother Jashawn Walker told me.
“Struggling” With Graham
Police initially cited a “struggle” that occurred in the bathroom where Ramarley Graham was shot, but Graham was unarmed, and even Police Commissioner Ray Kelly no longer claims that an incident occurred.
Police also said Graham ran after they pursued him for participating in a marijuana deal, but in video of Graham entering his home, he does not appear to be on the run. The video footage, obtained by New York One, also shows that several minutes passed between when Graham walked into his home and police gained entry. The officers then followed Graham into his second-floor apartment, before knocking and kicking open the door. Inside, they found Graham in the bathroom, where he was shot moments later.
As WPIX reported,
It was the NYPD who was on the run, chasing after Ramarley Graham, 18, who -- seconds earlier -- casually closed the door behind him as he entered his home. The surveillance video is dramatic and telling. The family released it Saturday afternoon, approximately 48 hours after the shooting.
The video clearly shows Graham walking into his home on East 229th Street in the Bronx Thursday, shortly after 3:00p.m. The NYPD then jump into the screen seconds later. Two officers rush toward the door, with one trying to kick down a locked door. He had no search warrant. Seconds later another officer holds up his gun and aims it at one of the residents who -- coincidentally -- was on the side of the home. A total of four officers are seen on the video.
PIX11 spoke to one resident who, was cooking during the forced entry and said that the NYPD did not identify themselves: "...they did not scream ‘police.’"
Even though the police did not have a warrant, Graham’s landlord, Paulette Minzie, said police put a gun in her face and searched her home for weapons. “What’s clear,” Minzie’s attorney, Neville Mitchel, told NY1, “is that there was enough time for them to reflect on what is happening, and this tragedy should not have happened."
Javin James, 31, was in his apartment when something drew him to the window. He watched police officers stop and frisk Jateik Reed and two of his friends. Sitting with me in a neighbor’s car, James told me what he saw.
“They’re searching the guys, then I see one of them get dropped,” James told me. Pointing to his window, across the street from where Reed was beat, James explained that after police dropped him, Reed was behind an NYPD van, and James could not see what happened behind it. Then he said, the violence escalated. He said he saw police beat Reed as he hung off the curb, before picking him up and dragging him over toward the wall. “I was yelling that they could have cuffed him five minutes ago,” he told me.
When James heard a cop ask what apartment number he was in, he walked away from the window. James told me that some other police officers then busted down his door.
As James told New York One:
"When they surrounded me and looked at me with gloves on, I knew what was going to happen. I just had time to pull my glasses off. And by the time I did that, it was 'boom' [with a punch]. I did [put up my hands] like that to shield my face immediately. I tried to protect my face. I'm shielding my face and this is exposed. He uses his right leg and stomps me here [in the torso]."
Then, Javin James says an officer tried to intimidate him into silence. “I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like ‘Tell me now that you saw something,’” James said. He told me that he needs physical therapy twice a week to treat the muscle spasms in his neck and back.
But no amount of physical therapy can undo the harm that police have inflicted on Patricia Hartley. After she watched her grandson, Ramarley Graham, die, police who fired far too fast did not make an attempt to comfort her.
Instead, according to the New York Daily News:
Then, the Daily News says, Hartley was held in police custody for seven hours.
Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, D-Bronx, told the Daily News that Hartley was also being denied access to her heart medication. “I asked the district attorney a simple question: ‘Is this woman being held against her will?’” he told the Daily News. “Within 10 minutes, she was released.”
When Reed’s family went to the 42nd Precinct to find out why he was so badly beaten, police arrested and allegedly roughed them up as well.
Schuan Reed, Jateik Reed’s mother, and his brother, Jashawn, told me the violence started when they were on their way out. Schuan had been asking the officers if she could speak to the captain, but they would only give her the sergeant. “I didn’t want to speak to the sergeant. The sergeant was involved in the incident,” she told me.
Finally, they got ready to leave. “If you open the gate, it slams,” Schuan said. “I went through the gate.” Then, she says, officers came up behind them, asking her son Jashawn, “Did you slam the fucking gate?”
“I’m a grown woman,” she said, “That’s my son. If you have something to say to him, you say it to me.” Frustrated, Reed said she replied, “No, he didn’t slam the gate. He didn’t slam the fucking gate.”
Jashawn said one cop pushed him. Schuan said the officers egged on Jashawn, and “took the handcuffs off him like they wanted my son to fight them.”
“I told another cop I’m going to press charges on this officer because he pushed me,” Jashawn said. That’s when they say police dropped them. “He threw me on the floor, put his foot on top of my head, punched me in the face,” Jashawn said. “They also threw my friend [Will] on the floor -- that was at the scene when they beat up Jateik -- stepped all over him. The cop slapped my mom, called her a black bitch.”
Schuan said the officer’s name who hit her is Ferguson, but he wasn’t the only one who went after her.
After they were arrested and put behind bars, “There was another officer -- a Spanish lady -- came in the cell, like to jump me [with Ferguson],” she said, “The girls that were already in the cell ran out.” When another officer put himself between them, Schuan said, “I guess they knew to back off.”
Schuan Reed's 4-year-old son Jyaire had witnessed the arrest, and police took him into the office when they arrested the others. “I’m sitting there, wondering if they’re being mean to my baby,” Schuan told me, fighting back tears.
While Schuan Reed is familiar with the power of the police, she challenges those who charged her with disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice and child endangerment to prove she and her family were acting belligerently. “You all got cameras in there, right?” she said, “So, show it.”
Between the precinct and central bookings, the Reed family was locked up for 26 hours. The whole time, Schuan was terrified for Jateik.
Later, her fears were realized, when Jateik told her that police beat him in the van, and hit and maced him at the precinct.
She added, “When he was in central booking, he kept asking them to take him to the hospital because his head and everything was hurting, and they wouldn’t take him to the hospital. By law, you are supposed to take him to the hospital, so why didn’t they? What if he had internal bleeding? God forbid if he passed out and dropped dead in there.”
“I know he’s scared,” she said, choking up. “He told me “Ma, they’re going to do something to me.”
Schuan Reed and her family were finally released, but they still couldn’t go home. Schuan and Jashawn claim that the officers kept Jashawn’s phone, and both their sets of apartment keys. “I haven’t been sleeping in my house. I can’t go to my house because I don’t know if they’ve been there,” said Schuan, who has only had time to change one of her locks. “They could come plant something, do anything -- drugs, bugs, anything. If i come in my house to get clothes or something, I feel like somebody’s been in there. It might just be me being paranoid, but I don’t know,” she said. “The whole situation is just real scary.”
She said she feels like she’s always looking over her shoulder. “They might lose their jobs. You don’t know if they’ll come in the house and kill all of us. How can I sleep peacefully not knowing if someone will come in and kill me and my kids? Do you know what it’s like, to feel scared like that?”
Schuan worries about the emotional consequences the beating will have on her son.
“Jateik is going to have to have therapy. He’s going to feel threatened, be emotionally damaged for the rest of his life. I just wish there was something I could do,” she said, “but they have all the authority. They can falsify documents, they can falsify evidence, they can do basically whatever they want, and nobody will ever know.”
There are cameras outside the housing projects where the incident occurred. Footage from them may show what Trevor’s video doesn’t.
“The police complaint alleges that the cops observed him with a bag of a substance that they recognized, based on their training and experience, was crack, and that he threw it away, along with two bags that they recognized as marijuana,” Reed’s lawyer, Gideon Orion Oliver, told me at Reed’s bail hearing, adding, “They’re basically alleging that what he had was some crack residue.”
“That sort of superhuman sensory perception,” Oliver noted, “is very typical in drug prosecutions.”
Those who know Jateik Reed call the crack charges a transparent technique to stereotype and criminalize him.
“I heard that the newspaper said cocaine, weed,” Trevor said, “They don’t got the story straight. I’ve known Jateik my whole life, and he don’t even touch crack, so that just sounds crazy,” he said. Trevor claims he saw, “No drugs at all” during the stop.
Garnell said, “Jateik is not the rowdy type to do crack, none of that. That’s not Jateik."
“If you see the police standing there, why would you have something in your hands like that?” Schuan said. “That’s not even logical. And for people to say he’s a drug dealer! A mother knows what her son does. I would know if my son was a drug dealer. I’m not stupid. If he’s a drug dealer, then why does he come to me, asking for $5, $2, every day?”
If Jateik Reed's friends are right, and he never touched crack, it wouldn’t be the first time the NYPD planted drugs.
The recent trial of former NYPD detectives accused of planting drugs on suspects reveals what could be a widespread pattern of corruption. This fall, eight officers were arrested for planting drugs on people, causing Police Commissioner Kelly to order widespread transfers in Brooklyn South and Queens narcotics units. In November, Jason Arbeeny, a 14-year NYPD veteran, was found guilty of eight counts of falsifying records and official misconduct for planting crack on suspects. At his own trial in November, Stephen Anderson, a former NYPD detective, indicated that high pressure to meet quotas makes “flaking,” or placing some previously confiscated drugs on an innocent person, common among all ranks. Anderson testified in court that, “It was something I was seeing a lot of, whether it was from supervisors or undercovers and even investigators.”
Although Jason Arbeeny admitted to planting crack cocaine on a woman and her boyfriend in 2007, the judge let him off with probation last week.
But planting drugs is not the only way cops keep arrests up. As data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services shows, even after Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an internal memo ordering police to follow the law on pot arrests, 2011 saw more low-level pot arrests -- more than 50,000 -- than any other year in the past decade. Research by Queens sociologist Harry Levine and the Drug Policy Alliance interprets the numbers as proof that the NYPD continued using controversial stop-and-frisks to remove marijuana from pockets or bags and improperly charge people, overwhelmingly black and Latino youths, with marijuana “in public view,” which is a more severe misdemeanor than personal possession and can be cause for arrest and booking.
In the last five years, the NYPD under Mayor Michael Bloomberg made more marijuana arrests than in the 24 years from 1978 through 2001.
Many link the NYPD’s marijuana arrest crusade to Ramarley Graham’s murder. Tony Newman, spokesperson for Drug Policy Alliance, wrote:
While details of the tragedy are still unfolding, it appears that [Graham] had a small amount of marijuana on him, so walked home to get away from the cops because he didn’t want to be arrested. The cops followed him, broke into his home and killed him in his bathroom while he was trying to flush a small amount of marijuana down the toilet. The police officer who shot Graham said he believed the young man had a gun. He did not – no weapons were found.
The bottom line is that an 18-year-old is dead because of the insane marijuana arrest crusade by the NYPD...
Ramarley Graham’s “god sister,” Makeba Johnson, said she knew “Marley” her whole life. Johnson told me she wants people to know that, despite reports that make Graham out to be little more than a criminal, “Marley is not what they say. Marley is not a person that robs people or a drug dealer. Marley is a person that, at times, he probably smoked marijuana, which a lot of kids do -- I don’t say that it’s right, but a lot of kids do. He didn’t deserve to die.”
The boys from Jateik Reed’s block say they are stopped from three to four times a week, though it could be as often as every day. They complain that police are rough and smart with them, but as teenagers, what seems to bother them most about the frisks is how intrusive they feel.
“They go in my pants. You’re not supposed to go in my pants,” said Jashawn Reed.
Garnell agreed. “It’s annoying because it doesn’t matter what kind of cop it is, female or male, they’re gonna frisk you. if you say something to the female about it, the female says something to you like ‘What? I can do what I want.' And they still frisk you. You can’t say sexual harassment, nothing,” he said, “And they go hard, grabbing stuff they’re not supposed to.”
“The way they search these kids -- oh my God, it’s like they found a weapon on them. To me, it’s like sexual harassment,” said Julissa Lawrence, a neighbor and close friend of the Reeds who is sick of seeing her teenage son and his friends constantly stopped by police.
Stop-and-frisks are a mechanism by which the NYPD can more easily snatch people up on drugs charges. While they are only supposed to be conducted when there is reasonable suspicion a person is carrying a gun, less than 2 percent of total stops result in the discovery of any weapon or contraband. The practice is widely abused, with police regularly neglecting to fill out the required paperwork. Since 2002, stop-and-frisks have increased by 600 percent.
What’s worse, the numbers on race make Jateik Reed look like just another statistic: In 2011, 85 percent of the NYPD’s stops were blacks or Latinos. Stop-and-frisks that involve force are much more likely to involve black or Latino people.
While marijuana arrests are the most common charge for arrests in New York City, all misdemeanor arrests are spiraling out of control. In 2010, the NYPD reported 391,892 misdemeanor charges. On Jateik Reed’s block, teenagers say they have been arrested for petty crimes so many times they have lost track.
“They’re always misjudging something, and picking people up for stuff they didn’t do. They’ll lie to you, too,” Jashawn claimed.
“Trespassing and disorderly conduct are the two mains,” Jashawn Reed said, “and jaywalking.” Jashawn claims that in October he was arrested three or four times in the span of three weeks. “I have to go court for them, pay little fines. You always gotta go to court at the end of the day, but sometimes they let you out of the precinct." Most of the time, however, “They send you through central booking, everything. It could be as long as three days.”
“Since I was like 15, they’ve been harassing me,” he said.
For Garnell, the cops started with him when he first grew facial hair. “I guess that means I’m a bad guy,” he said.
Every kid on the block could tell you stories about police snatching them up on some charge, but trespassing is what they reference most often, perhaps because the circumstances seem so ridiculous.
Jashawn said he and a friend once walked from one building to another across the street, where they stood for inside for “10 seconds,” and “as soon as we came out of the building, the police cars stopped right in front of us.” Jashawn said an officer told him they got a call about two people wearing red and blue jackets.
“How’d they get a call if we just got to the building?” Jashawn wonders.
But police didn’t take them for trespassing. “They said they were going to take us for jaywalking, and then when they finally let us out, they gave us a ticket for disorderly conduct,” he said.
Garnell, too, was arrested for trespassing, while on his way out of a friend’s building. He spent three days in jail before the judge dismissed the case.
“These kids are not out there antagonizing people, robbing people, selling drugs. They go to school and hang out together because they grew up together and there’s nowhere to go. There’s no recreational centers because they shut everything down. So what else can they do?” said Julissa Lawrence.
In an article called “House Arrest, Redefined,” the Village Voice explained how one man’s arrest for trespassing in his own home is part of a pattern:
“This kind of policing is exactly what the New York Civil Liberties Union is targeting in a new lawsuit. The group claims that the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk program, which stops an overwhelming majority of black and Latino suspects, is also taking place in private buildings.
Landlords citywide can sign up for a program called "Operation Clean Halls," which is intended to prevent drug use and sales through indoor patrolling.
Alexis Karteron, NYCLU senior staff attorney, told the Voice, "We were hearing directly from people that building residents were being subjected to pretty intense police practices—getting stopped in lobbies, stopped at the mailbox, at the garbage chute, in the hallway.”
Julissa Lawrence calls the all-too-common arrests “bogus charges, just to get their name and address in the book.”
Jashawn told me some of his cases catch up with him. “There’s so many I forget about it. I just had court last week because of something, and I had a bench warrant for one of those cases,” said Jashawn, who did not realize he had missed court. “It’s just too much stuff, too many tickets, too many summonses.”
Garnell says that most of the arrests and stop-and-frisks happen “right in the middle of the week,” and noted Wednesdays as the worst, with Friday also busy, “because they want you to spend the weekend in bookings. All the other days they’re not really looking for anybody.”
His observations are consistent with data that shows the NYPD follows a schedule of days designated for desk work or aggressive policing. The trend in arrests thus stems from the NYPD’s own pattern of policing, not fluctuations in actual crimes.
According to CUNY Professor K. Babe Howell’s report, Broken Lives from Broken Windows:
“The differences in the numbers of misdemeanor arrests can be attributed to decisions made regarding the deployment of police resources. In order to arrest people for minor offenses, teams of officers are organized to observe people buying drugs, to do sweeps of particular buildings, or to watch for people jumping turnstiles. "Busy arrest days," therefore, are the result of aggressive order-maintenance policing targeted at particular locations. Other days are "slow arrest days" because of less aggressive policing of these offenses.
According to statistics, the least serious offenses “make up the lion's share of the additional arrests on busy days.”
Justice for Jateik Reed and Ramarley Graham
Private donors and the Occupy Wall Street bail fund donated the $10,001 the Reed family needed to post for Jateik Reed to be released, and he walked out of jail, to the relief of his mother, last week. He still faces drug and resisting arrest charges.
While Reed’s family described his release as “wonderful,” they still want police to be held responsible for their actions, and seek more accountability from the NYPD, overall. Prosecutors demanded Reed give up his right to the 5th Amendment and cooperate with police to investigate the officers who beat him. On the advice of his lawyers, who said the relationship between the NYPD and the District Attorney’s office makes a fair investigation impossible, Reed didn’t take the deal. His attorneys are pushing for a special prosecutor to open up the investigation.
Makeba Johnson explained to me why it is too late for Ramarley Graham, but not for other youths. “I just want them to realize that because they’re police they can’t just shoot somebody and then just go on desk duty and it’s okay, because it's not fair. If we shoot somebody we go to jail. And if they shoot somebody they get desk duty,” she said, “He had no life yet, not a heartbreak yet in life.”
Schuan Reed said while she knew police harassment was bad, she did not realize how far it went until her own son became a victim. “I feel bad that it took me so long,” she said, “But I think I found my calling.”
The aggressive policing has inspired a movement, grown from the neighborhoods and communities affected, with a mission to end stop-and-frisk. Jose Lassale, a New Yorker who has been subject to stop-and-frisk himself, said being stopped is “just another day in the hood, and that’s sad that we feel that way.”
Lassale and other members of the Stop Stop-and-Frisk coalition are mobilizing, policing the police and passing out “Stop Stop-and-Frisk” buttons to empower communities and let police know they are standing up for themselves.
Jateik Reed’s friends have been wearing the buttons on their jackets, and said they, too, are ready to take a stand against racist policing, and fight back before the NYPD claims another victim.
“We just think that there needs to be a legitimate reason why they’re stopping these kids. Don’t just stop them because they’re black or their pants are sagging or they’re walking with a group of kids. They’re not hurting anybody,” Julissa Lawrence said, “Stop treating our kids like they’re the enemies. How about those people that walk around Wall Street with tuxedos and briefcases? Those could be bombs. They don’t stop them. But they stop our kids.”
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.