For more on police lying see this post from the other day.
Yesterday a judge in New York denied a lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Society against the NYPD on behalf of over a hundred people currently being detained illegally, many for days at a time, in violation of the state’s 24 arrest to arraignment requirement.
Typically people arrested at protests will be given a summons or desk appearance ticket, and not be detained, but Supreme Court Justice James Burke said the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic and mass protests -- “a crisis within a crisis” -- have slowed things down. The Legal Aid Society and others argued that the decision is a means of further punishing protestors who are being unnecessarily held in crowded and unsafe conditions during the pandemic.
“The police department has a history…of deliberately delaying people’s arraignments because they don’t like what they’re doing on the street,” the Legal Aid Society’s Russell Novack said.
I spoke with Emma Goodman, an attorney in the Special Litigation Unit at the Legal Aid Society about why this is such a serious violation of citizens rights and about how much the cops fucking suck.
Can you explain the situation for people who haven’t been following this case?
In New York there was a case decided in the 1990s that our office filed that made it illegal for them to hold people from arrest to arraignment for more than 24 hours.
Yes. That was back in 1991. What’s happening is that they’re holding people for days on end. So they’re just violating Roundtree very clearly. Most of the people that are being held are being held for non-violent felonies. So what they’ve done -- there’s no looting statute in New York -- so they’ve charged people with non-violent burglary charges. Those charges allow people to be held in until arraignment, but then once they actually get to see a judge they will all be released. The judge can’t hold them in.
But they’re doing that anyway now?
They’re doing it because they’re not letting them get arraigned. The delay from when they’re arrested to when they actually see a judge is way more than 24 hours. Some people have been held for three or four days.
Is this just in the past week, or has it been going on for a while?
It being hundreds of people in the system has just been in the past week. There have always been issues here and there, and we file individual writs, but the reason we did a mass writ is because there were about 400 people in the system waiting to see a judge.
The judge said something weird about using the pandemic to justify it. Isn’t that...counterintuitive?
It was pretty incredible. Judge Burke, to give you a little background, he was just overturned yesterday on a case where he had refused to let defense counsel question a cop about prior misconduct cases against him. So that tells you a little bit about where his leanings are.
A cop loving judge.
Former prosecutor. Likes the cops. Likes the DAs.
So do you think this is a spiteful punitive decision?
I think so. Especially because to me it seems like the law is so clear that people are being held for more than 24 hours, and there’s no way the NYPD and the courts have figured out how to avoid that. Also, all of these people will get out once they see a judge. It’s not like you’re letting people out that would otherwise be held in on bail indefinitely. You can’t be held on bail in these cases. So it’s just making people suffer for several more days while the NYPD delays paperwork, and makes people suffer because they’re protesting.
I’m not a lawyer but I feel like violating habeas corpus is a pretty big deal!
That’s what we filed, a writ of habeas corpus, which the judge denied. I think we’ll file a notice of appeal today and we’ll see where it goes. One of the things that’s interesting is we filed the writ a couple days ago and immediately they started moving people along more quickly. When we first filed just in Manhattan there were more than 200 people that were sitting and waiting to be arraigned. As of this morning it’s down to 80 people.
Have you heard stories from people being held about the conditions?
They’re pretty awful. When people are being held before arraignment, because it’s supposed to be less than 24 hours, it’s not like you’re taken somewhere with beds and a comfortable place to rest. You’re held in a cell with dozens of other people. The NYPD yesterday were trying to make their case why they couldn’t do this more quickly, but essentially admitted the conditions were horrible to the judge. That’s another potential lawsuit on a separate issue about the conditions.
One of the holding areas where they take men in Manhattan holds up to 150 people. There’s one toilet. There is running water but no hand sanitizer. They took that away because they said people were making weapons out of the containers. There are benches but no beds. They’re just being held there indefinitely. Our clients are telling us there’s one toilet, and it’s backed up and overflowing. It smells horrible.
This is putting people’s lives at further risk for the virus.
Going back to what you said about the judge's decision, it never ceases to amaze me the logic that people who hate our clients come up with to punish them further. So he’s saying because of the pandemic we should hold people in indefinitely, when that’s exactly why you should be releasing people.
It seems like the NYPD have taken over the city and are just taking out vengeance on people.
That’s definitely how it feels. We’re seeing them pull out everything from the old police beating down protest playbook from over the decades. They did the same thing where they just held people for days on end after the 2004 Republican convention. They rounded up thousands of people and just held them. They said it was an emergency. But they were just sitting on the paperwork. They weren’t trying to process them because they didn’t like that they were protesting Republicans. It was very obvious what was happening. That’s part of the NYPD playbook we’re seeing here.
Another thing they appear to be doing is moving people around between different boroughs. I don’t know if it’s for the same reasons they did it in the past, but in the past they did it, before this Roundtree habeas corpus case, to fudge the numbers to make it look like people weren’t being held for more than 24 hours. Very suspicious they’ve started doing that after we filed our writ.
Two big things that are very concerning to us are that the people who were part of our writ were people who were actually arrested. But there are a few different ways the police can process somebody where they’re not officially arrested. The point is they’re supposed to get a summons or a desk arrest ticket to return to court on your own in a couple months. What they’re doing is they’re holding all of those people that are just supposed to be issued a ticket for some period of time in some centralized location. They say they can’t issue tickets on the street because there’s too many protesters, which is just illegal detention.
It’s really alarming how tenuous this stuff all seems to be and how quickly it’s falling apart. Are you alarmed?
Yes and no. I’m alarmed by what they’re doing. I’m not surprised by it. All the injustices people are seeing in the news are things that I’ve witnessed constantly in my career. It’s why I’ve always hated the NYPD. This is how they act. It used to be something people didn’t know about, so it’s an interesting time to be doing this kind of work and to be in the communities that have always been advocating for change. On the one hand it’s horrible, of course, but on the other hand everyone is seeing it for what it truly is. That’s a big deal. It’s actually very exciting too. Everybody, kind of the nice liberal but I still like the cops people, are finally seeing what’s happening and getting it.
It’s a confusing feeling. Like I’ve been writing about police abuses for a while and it’s like: See? This is what I’ve been saying. But obviously I would prefer that we didn’t have so many examples. If you’re optimistic what might you hope might come out of this moment?
I think there’s a decent chance the police secrecy law, Article 50-A will actually be overturned in New York state. It’s one of the most powerful police secrecy laws in the country, and basically makes it impossible for us to get information about police misconduct. That makes it very hard to sue the police or to cross examine them.
In my dream optimistic world we would defund the NYPD. The NYPD yesterday in their argument painted themselves as these poor victims who are just struggling, and said they’re throwing molotov cocktails at us, setting our police stations on fire, we’re under attack, it’s not fair, we’re scared, we’re doing the best we can. It’s insane to me they could say that with a straight face considering there are 38,000 NYPD. They’re one of the best funded police departments in the world, if not the best. They have surveillance tools at their fingertips. It’s unbelievable that they would say we can’t handle it because we’re this poor little baby police department.
That’s the police narrative. They’re such babies. They can't just brutalize us, they also have to be the victims themselves all the time.
Yeah. I know it’s what they always do so, again, I’m not surprised. But it’s just so ridiculous to see them doing it. I really think they believe their own bullshit.
Obviously lots of people knew this, you mentioned the “good libs” who still respect the police, but I think some of them are maybe starting to realize that the police lie constantly. Especially with that report in Buffalo with them almost killing that old man. Is that something you’ve encountered in your career?
Absolutely. I was actually thinking about it yesterday in court. They lie constantly. Especially in the press. The New York Post here is the cop conservative paper. It’s lie after lie after lie. It happened with bail reform. They lied about people who got out on bail committing new crimes, but it would be someone who got out on bail four years ago and they didn’t even really get arrested. But also just in the police reports, and in terms of planting evidence on our clients, saying our clients were seen doing illegal things so they have an excuse to search people. It’s just habitual lying. I think they do it because they get away with it. There are no repercussions. I work at Legal Aid, and there are 2,000 lawyers in my office, and we are fighting against that all the time. But when it’s such a big systemic issue -- there are individual cases we win on -- but actually stopping the cops from lying requires judges to hold them accountable, and for the DAs to prosecute them when they do it. That doesn’t happen.
Another thing people are talking about lately is how it’s basically impossible to consume TV in America that isn’t about cops. In those shows you are depicted as the bad guy usually. You, personally, are jamming up the cops who are just trying to clean up the streets. The weenie lawyers come in talking about “rights.” Can you watch those type of shows?
I don’t watch those shows because they just seem like such a lie to me. I will say though, since I started working as a public defender in Manhattan, I will occasionally watch Law & Order. It makes the conditions that the DAs work in look really nice. These nice offices, all these resources. I’ve been to the DAs office many times in Manhattan and it’s horrible. It’s dirty and dingy and they share all these offices. I like to say, you know, I was watching Law & Order and it looked really nice there, is that what you expected you were gonna get? They say “shut up!”
But you’re constantly bombarded with that in this country. The cops are the good guys. Law enforcement against the criminals and the lawyers that help them.
One other thing that’s been really great for me and my colleagues, under Trump really, people have started to realize that public defenders actually do good stuff. It’s been nice to hear people say hey good work guys. We don’t do it for respect or else we’d get a different job, but it’s a nice change.
What’s the next step for your case on these detentions?
We’re going to file a notice of appeal. Like I said since we filed the writ the number of people officially being held are way down. We think that we freaked them out and they started getting their shit together. What we do next depends on how they fix it. All those other things I mentioned, moving people around, or holding people that shouldn’t be held period are the big next steps. We think that there are protestors that are just sitting somewhere, and because they weren’t officially arrested they don’t have to tell us about it. We don’t know where those people are. We know that they are not being given access to lawyers and allowed to make phone calls. Since they’re not officially arrested, all the rules about once you’re arrested you have rights, they’re saying those don’t apply. That's a huge violation of people’s rights.
Seems like the people always moaning about the Constitution would be upset about this. That’s literally one of the most important principles, you can’t be secretly detained by the police.
Yes. I think there will be several more wits of habeas corpus and lawsuits. We’re trying to decide what to do next. I’m just doing a small part of this. My unit does police accountability stuff so we’ve got twenty different fires we’re trying to put out all the time.
Like I said, this is all stuff we knew about already. I think we’re more ready than most people to respond to it. Whether the judges actually do what’s right is another question. But we’ll keep trying.