This Week in Allegedly: COVID-19 and Manhattan's D.A. Race

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Given President Donald Trump’s announcement this morning that he and his wife tested positive for COVID-19, we realize that you probably don’t have the time or attention span to read a lengthy recap of the week’s New York City courts and crime news.

And, we wouldn’t want to keep you from Halley Bondy’s extensive rundown of the 2021 Manhattan District Attorney candidates’ plans for addressing police misconduct and disparities in the justice system.

So, here’s a special edition of The Allegedly List, in brief…

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The Allegedly Original

By Halley Bondy

What the Manhattan D.A. Candidates Have To Say About Police Misconduct

Protests spurred by the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville renewed the national conversation on racism in policing and more broadly, disparities in the U.S. justice system.  

Many believe that the 2021 Manhattan District Attorney race is an opportunity to address these issues in New York City. Nine progressive candidates have thrown their hat into the ring. They all said they want to increase police oversight and address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. However, they offer varying ideas on how to get there.

Allegedly asked eight candidates two questions on these issues. The questions are:

1. What will your office do to proactively address police misconduct?  Please provide concrete examples.

2. Persons of color and economically disadvantaged persons are still overwhelmingly the targets of low-level prosecutions, how will you change that? Please provide concrete examples.

We gave each candidate five minutes to answer each question. Candidate Tahanie Taboushi did not participate despite many attempts to interview her.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. has not said whether he’s running, telling Allegedly: “I will make that decision at the soonest possible time where I think it’s the right time.” However, Vance answered the same questions as these announced candidates, under the same time guidelines. 

Below are the candidates’ answers, in alphabetical order by name. Vance’s responses are below the candidates’ answers. Because he has been in office, Vance’s answers are in the past tense. 

Alvin Bragg

Plans for change:

  • A holistic hiring model within the D.A.’s office

  • A widely available “do-not-call list” that tracks officers who cannot be relied on so that they cannot be called to the stand by prosecutors

  • Advocating for police force to be used as a last resort

  • Advocating for a smaller police presence in general

  • Not prosecuting smaller-level offenses like trespassing, larceny under $250, standalone resisting arrest, or cases where mental health is an obvious contributor

“Having lived as a Black boy first in Manhattan and now as a Black man in Manhattan...I think back on one incident, during a warrant squad arrest. Officers came to my door at 5 a.m., looking for a loved one who lived with me, for an open bottle offense. I think back to that occasion and wonder: Why are we using resources for this? There are issues that are a threat to our safety like gun trafficking that I would want to prioritize.” 

Elizabeth Crotty

Plans for change: 

  • Continuing bail reform

  • Expanding the D.A.’s corruption bureau

  • Transforming the D.A.’s office into a safe harbor for police officers to report misconduct

  • Advocating for ongoing implicit bias training for police officers

  • Not prosecuting many disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest offenses

“I was [with the] D.A. from 2000 to 2006,  and I started my own criminal defense firm 12 years ago. I’ve been representing people for 12 years. When I represent people and I see that someone is being charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, that is always code to me that they aggravated a police officer. The D.A. has to be open to dismissing those cases outright rather than, say, giving one day of community service. Sometimes, an arrest is really not appropriate.”                

Tali Farhadian Weinstein

Plans for change: 

  • Investigating police misconduct and officers who lie under oath or make false statements

  • Regularly assessing police officer credibility and disclosing results.

  • Engaging with victims of police misconduct

  • Using hard data to pinpoint where discrimination is happening and making reforms

“I’ve been a prosecutor for a long time, and I was trained that nobody is above the law no matter who they are or what uniform they are wearing... As I’ve always done, I would have my team follow the facts wherever they may lead, to investigate and prosecute misconduct when it happens. In Brooklyn, I helped design and supervise the Law Enforcement Accountability Bureau, which is a dedicated bureau for investigating and prosecuting police officers... First, you find the data, and then you react. “

Diana Florence

Plans for change: 

  • Proactively investigating the worst police misconduct offenders

  • Creating a database of officers who lie under oath

  • Making these databases accessible to public defenders

  • Not prosecuting low-level crimes that are a result of police escalation

  • Working with community organizations to find solutions for drug addiction other than arrest

“It’s absolutely the case that there have been two systems of justice. There’s a concierge system of justice that has existed especially in the last decade in Cy Vance’s office—I know that because I worked there, and I saw how the powerful got a different level of access and ability to get better outcomes to their cases. We need to attack that...We’re disproportionately affecting black and brown communities and over-policing them for low level crimes.”

Lucy Lang

Plans for change:

  • Monitoring police actions and intervening when there’s a risk for misconduct

  • Making the D.A.’s office a safe place for employees to report misconduct

  • Maintaining a database of offending officers and making it available to the defense and the public 

  • Advocating to decriminalize crimes of homelessness, poverty, and substance use 

  • Removing non-credible officers where possible from communities

  • Forging initiatives to utilize community members instead of law enforcement where possible to respond to and interrupt violence

  • Examining discrimination in high-level arrests as well as low-level arrests

  • Ensuring no lawyer or person has preferential access to the D.A. than any other

“I’ve had the incredible privilege over the past two years at John Jay, where I’ve been at the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution, working collaboratively with families who have lost families to police violence, police chiefs, and prosecutors from across the country to create a set of protocols and best practices for addressing instances of police violence. The experiences of those families have really highlighted for me the absolute imperative to prioritize clear communication and transparency around issues of police misconduct and violence.”

Janos Marton

Plans for change:

  • Pledging to reduce Manhattan’s jail population by 80 percent

  • Ending war on drugs

  • Abolishing the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor

  • Not prosecuting any drug possession case

  • Establishing an independent unit, outside of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, to monitor police misconduct and lying on the stand

  • Ensuring police misconduct records transparency

  • Eliminating cash bail

  • Advocating for a requirement that police officers live in the city

  • Advocating that police misconduct determinations should not be left to the police commissioner

“As someone who grew up as a young man of color in Giuliani's New York, I’ve been stopped and frisked, arrested and jailed...I was brought onto the Civilian Complaint Review Board six years ago. We tried to reform the CCRB to make police increase police accountability there. We hit a blue wall. There is too much political power invested in the NYPD because they have a hold over the budget, and people don’t understand the extent of misconduct...I am specifically running so that the public can have taxpayer-funded records.” 

Eliza Orlins

Plans for change:

  • Banning the acceptance of donations from all law-enforcement, including police unions

  • Disentangling the relationship between the police and the D.A.'s office

  • Preventing cases from being charged or prosecuted based on testimony from non-credible officers

  • Putting officers with a history of misconduct on a “do not call” list

  • Establishing an independent bureau for investigating and prosecuting police misconduct

  • Ensuring those tasked with prosecuting police officers are unbiased

  • Reviewing any pending or closed cases involving officers who have been found to have committed perjury in the past

  • Declining to prosecute cases including low level drug possession, sex work, and “crimes of poverty” like jumping a turnstile, sleeping on park benches, or occupying multiple seats on the subway, etc.

  • Ending cash bail

“For years, Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance has allowed the police to operate with impunity by refusing to hold them accountable for their actions...For the past 10 years, I have been working as a public defender. I’ve stood side by side representing more than 3,000 people, fighting for the human beings charged with crimes in this city who could not afford to hire an attorney. And I have seen time and time again, people of color and folks from low income communities be targeted… It is not fair. And it is not humane.”

Dan Quart

Plans for Change:

  • Publicly disclosing the names of officers who are not trustworthy

  • Advocating to empower the CCRB in New York City as an independent agent from the NYPD with substantial authority

  • Revamping the Early Case Assessment Bureau to have a better information vetting process when officers report an arrest

  • Declining to prosecute crimes like fare evasion, many drug possession charges, loitering, sex work, trespassing and more

“We have a D.A. in Manhattan who practices restraint when it pertains to the wealthy and well-connected, but uses incarceration as a first—not a last resort when it comes to Black, Brown and poor New Yorkers. As a criminal defense attorney, I’ve represented so many people who should have not been in criminal court in the first place… Prosecutors are part of the problem in their failure to prosecute police officers who use violence or excessive force against members of the public… My office will not be deferential to police unions or individual police officers who engage in violent or excessive force.”

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

Reforms

  • Decreased the office’s prosecutions by more than 50 percent

  • Ended routine prosecution of marijuana smoking and possession, subway fare evasion, unlicensed vending, nonpayment of fines, loitering for prostitution, and summons cases

  • Launched Project Reset, Project Green Light, and Manhattan Hope to provide free service interventions instead of prosecutions

  • Established first Conviction Integrity Program and first implicit bias review initiatives on East Coast

  • Started first Alternatives to Incarceration Court and hired first immigration-consequences counsel in New York

  • Funded the first statewide college-in-prison program and citywide supervised release program

  • Proactively dismissed 3,000 open marijuana bench warrants and 240,000 summons cases

  • Initiated class action that sealed hundreds of old marijuana convictions

“Our office has been already very proactive in addressing police misconduct in a variety of areas. Our prosecutions of police officers have ranged in instances from police officers committing physical assault, including rape, against individuals, and dealing drugs, and creating and fabricating circumstances to justify street stops or car stops.This is a part of the job that we have done for the time I’ve been in office. As I’ve said, we’ve done it dozens of times. I take no pleasure in it, but it has to be done.”

Victoria Bekiempis contributed reporting. 

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