NYPD Spends Nearly $100 Million A Year On Civil Rights Lawsuit Settlements

Documents released by the New York City Law Department reveal that in the past five years the NYPD has paid out over $428 million in police-related settlements for civil rights violations.

According to the documents, released due to a Freedom Of Information Act request by MuckRock, showed that the NYPD is involved in so many lawsuits that a veritable cottage industry of lawyers has sprung up to handle the thousands of cases leveled against the department on a yearly basis. Not all of the suits are specifically for NYPD officer misconduct – one is for a man who was beaten to death by Rikers Island Correction officers, for example – but the vast majority are.

The specifics of the documents are truly astonishing. For example, the average settlement was for around $33,000 – meaning every time an overly-aggressive officer beats or violates the rights of a citizen, his or her actions are not only causing harm to the person physically and emotionally, but also running up a tab for the taxpayers of New York that is tens of thousands of dollars.

The Gothamist gives us just one example:

Last year we met protester Jed Meighan, who said he was living off the settlement he obtained from the City after being shoved to the ground by a group of NYPD officers during an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2012. Meighan broke his wrist and later received $55,000.

Occupy Wall Street comes up in the document a lot, because the police spent much of the massive protest cracking down on protesters with a heavy-hand. Consequently, the city has had to pay up for the indiscretions of those officers. In the largest OWS lawsuit to date, New York was found guilty of falsely arresting 14 protesters on New Year’s Day in 2012: The court awarded the victims $583,024.

Individually, officers can rack up an impressive number of lawsuits, as well. According to the Daily News, one detective, Peter Valentin, has had 28 lawsuits filed against him in the past eight years.

Valentin, a hard-charging Bronx narcotics detective whose online handle is “PistolPete,” has been sued a stunning 28 times since 2006 on allegations of running slash-and-burn raids that left dozens of lives in ruins while resulting in few criminal convictions.

The city has paid out $884,000 to settle cases naming the stocky, 36-year-old detective, but he doesn’t seem too concerned.

Not only is he still on the job, despite costing the city almost a million dollars for objectively terrible police work, but he reportedly told the Daily News that he wasn’t even aware that he had been sued so much. “Once it goes to court, I don’t follow it,” he told the paper.

According to the same report, another 55 officers have been sued 10 or more times a piece.

It may come as no surprise that many of the lawsuits were centered around false or illegal arrests. Often, police have been found liable for injuries sustained to suspects who later are found to be innocent. They also often face accusations of causing economic or social hardship when those they arrest lose their jobs, kids, pets or homes due to an arrest that is ultimately deemed unwarranted.

The result of this lack of officer discipline? The number of lawsuits filed against the department has doubled in the past decade.

And despite high profile cases of police abuse, and the emphatic assurances of police officials that the department is going to get its act together, this year may mark a banner year in police lawsuits. In the first six months of 2014, the city has doled out $103 million. To put that in perspective, in 2013 the city spent $93 million for the entire year.