NLG-NYC members succeed in ending NYPD prosecution of protest arrest cases

Congratulations to past Chapter Presidents Martin Stolar, Elena Cohen and Gideon Oliver, as well as members Jonathan Wallace and Michael Decker for two years worth of work and advocacy in abolishing an ill-conceived policy. 

Their work means that protesters will no longer be targeted for more severe punishment. 

Manhattan DA, NYPD toss policy letting cops prosecute activists’ summons cases

In a win for city activists, the Manhattan District Attorney and NYPD have tossed a controversial policy that allowed police lawyers to prosecute protest arrest cases with the goal of limiting lawsuit liability.

The backpedaling came days after lawmakers sent a hard-charging letter to DA Cy Vance Jr. blasting his office’s February 2016 order which authorized the police department’s Legal Bureau to play prosecutor in summons cases.

Typically, there isn’t a prosecutor in summons court so the addition of one was considered a bullying tactic and a disadvantage to select defendants in small-time public rally busts.

Attorneys for the department insisted on Black Lives Matter rally participants admitting wrongdoing in exchange for standard dismissal deals.

Admissions of that sort are not typically required in criminal court settlements known as adjournments in contemplation of dismissal or ACDs.

Normally, a defendant’s case will be dismissed and sealed after six months of good behavior without the individual admitting to anything — but police attorneys wanted the people they flagged to concede there was probable cause to make an arrest with the hope it would fend off civil claims.

In all, the NYPD handled 38 cases since the agreement went into effect.

“I don’t have the resources and time to do these cases anymore,” said Larry Byrne, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters. “If we do them we have the trial. We have to do the appeals. We decided to use the resources in a different way.”

Vance’s office notified New York State Assemblyman Dan Quart and other reps of its decision on Friday.

“Over the past several years, DA Vance has ended the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of low-level cases and believes that summons matters are best handled by a judge or judicial hearing officer, so that limited prosecutorial resources are not expended on minor offenses,” wrote Joan Vollero, Vance’s senior advisor for intergovernmental affairs and public policy.

Activists and their advocates believed the policy was a threat to the First Amendment rights of demonstrators.

Two Back Lives Matter participants arrested in 2016 whose trials were handled by NYPD lawyers filed a lawsuit which is pending in Manhattan Supreme Court.

“Thanks are due to our clients, Black Lives Matter activists Arminta Jeffryes and Cristina Winsor, for leading this two-year struggle and ultimately forcing the DA and the NYPD to end this ill-advised policy,” said Gideon Orion Oliver, an attorney handling the lawsuit.


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