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Is the NYPD Out of Control? New Lawsuit Takes on Bloomberg's 'Private Army'

Rodriguez v. Winski calls for the creation of an independent federal position to oversee the NYPD.

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One part of the story that hasn't been reported, until now, centers on plaintiff Justin Sullivan, who was arrested while filming arrests at a “mic check” action in Grand Central Station. Upon being taken into custody his still camera and video camera were confiscated, which is standard procedure. Sullivan was released from the precinct with several court summonses, but without his camera. It's worth quoting the complaint in full (emphasis mine):

107. When Plaintiff Justin Sullivan went back to the MTA Police Precinct located at Grand Central Station to ask for his missing video camera, he was  re-arrested and held for approximately 24 more hours .

108. Additional charges were issued against Plaintiff Justin Sullivan at that time.

109. Plaintiff Justin Sullivan's still camera was not returned.

110. Plaintiff Justin Sullivan's video camera was not returned.

111. Plaintiff Justin Sullivan's data chips were not returned

112. A witness reported that she observed an officer who fits the physical description of Officer Lakeram (who specifically requested JS's cameras – JK) instructing another officer to break the camera.

That's an astounding set of allegations. After being arrested for filming somebody being arrested (who was actually speaking out against a previous arrest), Sullivan was released, re-arrested, and issued further charges. Beyond all that, his camera – which contained evidence regarding the previous arrests – was allegedly destroyed and his data cards were either destroyed, lost, or are still being held somewhere.

Also previously unreleased, but contained in the  video submitted along with the complaint, is evidence of an MTA police dog biting the second arrested protester in the leg (min 4:15). I know from personal conversations I had after the incident that the victim suffered substantial pain as a result of the bite. These are just two instances of police misconduct at one relatively low-profile Occupy action. The complaint itself highlights too many other examples to enumerate here.

The Role of Chase Bank

One of the key defendants in this suit is JPMorgan Chase, which, compared to the NYPD and Brookfield, has remained relatively removed from Occupy – publicly, at least. Behind the scenes is a very different story, one that remains shrouded in mystery, but gets to the core of what Occupy is about. The suit alleges a conspiracy between Mayor Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and employees of JP Morgan Chase to deprive citizens of their constitutional rights. From September 17 until at least October 12, the NYPD barred Occupy activists from engaging in speech or assembly in Chase Manhattan Plaza, a privately owned public space. That, in and of itself, is troubling enough. But on or around October 12, the complaint alleges, the NYPD barricades came down and were replaced by a much taller fence believed to be the property of JPMorgan Chase. Again, from the complaint:

“[T]he close temporal proximity between the removal of the initial barriers and their replacement with the subsequent private fence shows that Defendant J.P. Morgan and state actors conferred and conspired to continue the violation of Constitutional rights of individuals seeking to gather and exercise their rights in said publicly accessible open area.”

In early October, JP Morgan issued a press release touting its $4.6 million donation to the New York Police Foundation, the largest in the NYPF's history. The contribution began in September 2010, well before the emergence of Occupy, so the money wasn't related to the protesters initially, although the relationship between the financial firm and the police remains unclear. The NYPF is closely associated with the NYPD; the homepage on its website features a photo of NYPD Commissioner Kelly. We don't know what effect that donation had on police policies and behavior. But we do know that Occupy activists were barred from exercising their rights due to the content of their speech, and more needs to be revealed about the collusion between the police and financial elites.

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