Lawsuits accusing the New York Police Department (NYPD) of violating civil rights cost the city $22.8 million in 35 settlements from July 1, 2011 to June 30 this year, according to a DNA.info report. The settlements and judgments ranged from $100,000 to a $15 million class-action lawsuit.
Many of the “civil rights violations” were complaints of the police using excessive force. In one lawsuit Vernon Branch, 38, accused the police of punching him in the face, using pepper spray, and hitting him with a baton. Vernon was protesting his younger brother being thrown to the ground in response to the police checking a noise complaint, according to DNAinfo.com. Branch received $324,000 in June.
“Police officers cope with incredibly difficult situations on a daily basis,” Celeste Koeleveld, executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety at the New York City Law Department, said in a statement. “As we’ve often noted, the decision to settle a lawsuit is not an indication of wrongdoing by the police officer or officers involved.”
Koeleveld said the decisions to settle are all business judgments.
“We look at each case stringently and weigh obvious risk factors like potential jury awards and automatic attorney fees,” Koeleveld said in the statement. “Of course, we also aggressively litigate dozens of civil rights cases a year and often win at trial.”
The city won 75 percent of the civil rights police cases taken to trial last year and the remaining cases were “mixed verdicts, mistrials, or plaintiff’s verdicts,” according to the NYC Law Department. Of the five verdicts won by plaintiffs, one was for just $1 and another was for $600.
The number of civil rights claims against the NYPD increased to 2,241 the year ending June 30, 2011, up from 1,826 in the previous year, according to the comptroller’s office.
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