Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell set aside or flat-out ignored more than 400 penalties recommended by the Civilian Complaint Review Board against cops accused of misconduct — hundreds more than first realized, a study released Thursday shows.
As 2022 drew to a close, Sewell said in a message to police officers that she rejected CCRB discipline recommendations more often than other recent police commissioners, and that some of the police watchdog group’s rulings were “manifestly unfair” to officers.
At the time she said she had overturned “over 70″ recommendations by the city’s cop watchdog group.
But a study by the Legal Aid Society released Thursday shows Sewell had either dismissed or changed CCRB discipline recommendations on at least 425 accusations of misconduct.
Sewell tossed 346 of the cases by simply letting the statute of limitations expire before making a decision in writing on the CCRB’s recommendation — even though she had “weeks or even months” to make up her mind, the study shows.
It was not immediately disclosed how many discipline recommendations Sewell reviewed last year.
For the ones in which Sewell rejects CCRB’s findings, the explanation “often reveals a selective and possibly biased account of the facts,” the Legal Aid Society said.
Under the agreement between the two agencies, the CCRB can prosecute NYPD disciplinary cases, but whatever discipline it recommends can be reduced, increased or left unchanged by the police commissioner.
In her December message to her officers, Sewell said the CCRB does not examine an officer’s case file before making a recommendation.
“In making disciplinary decisions, I scrutinize the full record,” she said. “We should not punish good faith errors and small mistakes made under stressful conditions.”
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The CCRB findings Sewell disputed included an incident when a 240-pound cop was accused of lifting a “small, skinny” 14-year-old boy into the air “so that his head [was] above him” and then body slammed the child, injuring the teen’s back and elbow without issuing a very warning first.
While the officer admitted his actions in CCRB interviews, Sewell refuted the CCRB’s decision that the takedown amounted to excessive force, instead calling the cops actions “as controlled.” She did not penalize the cop.
Sewell has also lowered penalties recommended by the CCRB for several cases in which cops did not give potential complainants business cards, which they are required to do, and dismissed a case in which a cop working with an employee of the city Administration for Children’s Services was charged for wrongfully searching an apartment the ACS worker believed contained an at-risk child. The CCRB wanted to penalize the officer 10 vacation days.
In a letter sent to Mayor Adams, the Legal Aid Society said Sewell’s actions were a “systematic failure to impose appropriate discipline on officers found to have committed misconduct” and creates “resentment among members of the communities the NYPD serves, who have long called for NYPD leadership to take discipline seriously.”
“The frequency of these departures and their biased reasoning suggest a disregard for the primary goals of the NYPD’s Disciplinary Matrix mandated by the New York City Council — that is, transparent, fair, and predictable accountability for officer misconduct,” Maggie Hadley, legal fellow in the Criminal Defense Practice’s Special Litigation Unit at The Legal Aid Society said. “This further erodes public trust in the NYPD’s disciplinary system, and we demand immediate action by City Hall to ensure that Commissioner Sewell ceases to abuse her discretion to undermine discipline.”
The Legal Aid Society wants Mayor Adams to instruct Sewell to publish new guidelines based on how she exercises her discretion “that will ensure that factual findings produced by the CCRB investigation are not second guessed, conclusions are reached consistent with the Matrix’s terms, progressive discipline is imposed, and prompt action is taken to avoid statute of limitation problems.”
An email to the NYPD and CCRB requesting comment on the study were not immediately returned.
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