Queens DA Releases Secret List Of 65 Officers With Questionable Credibility
In response to a Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] request, Queens prosecutors have released internal records on 65 police officers whose honesty has been challenged by judges in court. The records include the names of officers across several boroughs but do not list what criminal cases led to their adverse credibility findings.
The list, which comes from a Queens DA internal database, names at least eleven officers that the public defender community previously did not know had credibility issues, according to Molly Griffard, a Legal Aid Society fellow involved in the organization’s Cop Accountability Project.
According to a Legal Aid Spokesperson, this lack of transparency up until now raises the possibility that defense attorneys have agreed to plea deals in the past without knowing about these potentially dishonest officers. Legal Aid says it will begin a case review to identify potentially tainted pleas based on the release.
Queens Detective Wayne Kaifler, for example, is named in the Queens DA database as having received an adverse credibility finding. Reached by phone, he declined to comment on his placement on the list.
Some of the officers named in the list had lawsuits filed against them in the past.
Javier Velez, for example, is currently listed as Queens gang unit detective, according to the Legal Aid Society’s CAPSTAT database. He and a group of officers in Brooklyn were sued for allegedly fabricating a 2009 gun and drug seizure to justify the arrest of a man named Leroy Davis. Davis claimed he never possessed the contraband, and was acquitted on all counts at a federal trial. The case resulted in a $560,000 settlement.
Gothamist/WNYC could not find contact information for officer Velez, but attempted to reach him through the police department and his union. We’ll update if we receive a response.
Andrew Stengel, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, posted the list of officers’ names released by the Queens DA on Twitter Wednesday night. Stengel pointed out that although the Queens DA’s office denied the existence of the list in April 2018, today’s FOIL release shows that the list was created in March 2018.
— Andrew M. Stengel (@stengellaw) November 27, 2019
The long-awaited Queens DA adverse credibility list: https://t.co/22JkXryVqU. pic.twitter.com/ZdVvBvnUch
— Andrew M. Stengel (@stengellaw) November 27, 2019
The disclosure comes after attorney Gideon Oliver filed a FOIL appeal to Queens prosecutors on behalf of Gothamist/WNYC. But the disclosures are not comprehensive. In a letter to WNYC/Gothamist from earlier this month, the DA’s office said it would not release records of substantiated misconduct found during internal investigations by the NYPD or the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
To justify these withholdings, the Queens DA cited section 50-a of New York’s civil rights law, which shields the release of officer personnel records and has been interpreted expansively by appellate courts over the past decade.
In April, Gothamist/WNYC was the first to reveal that the Queens DA had built its own office credibility database, collecting substantiated misconduct allegations, criminal matters, adverse credibility findings and civil lawsuits.
Tim Rountree, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Queens criminal practice, praised the release.
“New Yorkers should be able to rely on police officers to tell the truth, but too often, that is not the case, and officers are caught telling lies on the witness stand and in their official reports,” said Rountree. “We welcome this list from the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, however, this is just a small step towards the transparency required to root out problems of police misconduct. This speaks to the larger problem of police secrecy in New York, where officers are able to hide their misconduct records behind Civil Rights Law 50a.”
The Queens District Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment, but has said previously that such disclosures are made pursuant to state law.
The DA’s planned release of officer credibility records comes less than two months before Queens borough president Melinda Katz takes office. Katz has styled herself as a progressive, but has faced criticism from leftwing activists who supported her rival Tiffany Cabán. Following Gothamist/WNYC’s discovery of the Queens DA’s officer database, Katz, unlike some other Democratic candidates, resisted the release of such records.
“Police officers are given the benefit of the doubt when they walk into a courtroom, and we need to make sure they’re held to the highest standard of credibility,” Katz told the Queens Daily Eagle in April. “But without clear and consistent standards for what qualifies an officer to make the list in question or ways to keep details of ongoing investigations confidential, it shouldn’t be made public.”
Katz did not respond to Gothamist/WNYC’s latest request for comment about the release.
In a statement, the NYPD noted that it solicits judges’ adverse credibility findings from prosecutors, using them to consider possible training, reassignment or investigation. The department said it does not consider every such finding to be accurate, and mentioned there is “no mechanism to appeal a finding of adverse credibility against one of our officers.”
The release makes Queens the third DA’s office to disclose records directly from its officer credibility database. The Bronx and Brooklyn DA released similar records to Gothamist/WNYC over the last two months.
Alejandra Salazar contributed to this reporting.
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