The New York Police Department has decided to take on a prosecutorial role in order to fend off lawsuits. Civil rights advocates have condemned the move, calling it a conflict of interest and an attempt to reduce political protests.
According to the New York Daily News, NYPD officials said the move was made because a lot of people they consider professional protesters get their cases dismissed in summons court.
The department claims that by dismissing the cases, the courts are paving the way for the protesters to sue the department.
“We’re trying to put some teeth into issuing these summons,” said Larry Byrne, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters at the NYPD.
Some defendants aren’t comfortable with the new police presence in court.
39-year-old Noelle Harris said she was surprised and confused to see an NYPD legal advocate litigating her disorderly conduct summons from an October protest against police brutality.
“It was almost like he had a hidden agenda and I was wondering what was up his sleeve,” Harris said. Her attorney, Samuel Cohen, said the department was wading into uncharted territory.
“This is a profound overreach by police,” Cohen said.
On December 16, prior to Harris’ case being heard, a judge conditionally dismissed the cases of two protestors.
Greggory Turkin of the NYPD’s Legal Bureau arrived just before Harris went in front of the judge.
Turkin said he was amenable to a conditional dismissal of the summons but only if Harris admitted her guilt on the record.
“I would like an admission from Ms. Harris that we had probable cause to issue her a summons,” Turkin said.
Harris declined to admit any guilt.
“I’m going to ask that the case be set over for trial, then, because the people are ready to proceed,” Turkin said, using language usually reserved for prosecutors. “I’m here to prosecute the case, Judge.”
The judge granted Harris the same dismissal he gave the other two protesters.
54-year-old Richard Lynch had a similar experience when he went before a judge for a couple of summonses stemming from several one-man demonstrations outside of the Governor’s mansion.
The NYPD representative present in court also wanted him to admit guilt on the record.
“I’m not going to say police were in the right by arresting me for speaking out,” Lynch said. “To have them arrest me at protests illegally and then to have them show up in court is intimidating.”
NYPD deputy chief Kerry Sweet argued that the department’s lawyers help level the playing field in summons courts.
“There’s no one to stand up and assist the cop. There’s no trial prep,” Sweet said.