More Cases Involving Convicted Ex-Cops Axed In Manhattan

By Andrea Keckley | June 23, 2023, 7:09 PM EDT ·

While the Manhattan District Attorney's Office announced this month that it would throw out over 300 mostly misdemeanor convictions tied to discredited New York City cops, information gathered by local advocates suggests prosecutors have a long road ahead of them in accounting for damage done by police officers they no longer trust.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office said in early June that it had moved to vacate 308 misdemeanor and eight felony convictions as part of an ongoing Post-Conviction Justice Unit review of more than 1,100 cases connected to 22 former New York Police Department officers convicted of crimes themselves or otherwise alleged to have engaged in misconduct.

The officers were flagged to Bragg's office as part of a 2021 letter from a coalition of public defender and wrongful conviction groups sent to prosecutors in all five city boroughs.

The 316 convictions are tied to nine of those former officers who, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, were sentenced between 2011 and 2019 for crimes related to their law enforcement duties.

Going forward, Elizabeth Felber, a supervising attorney at the wrongful conviction unit of the Legal Aid Society of New York and a signatory to the 2021 letter, told Law360 that she would like to see prosecutors' offices "put protocols in place so that they don't do this simply when defense attorneys reach out to them."

"Yes, kudos that you're dismissing these cases, but what are they doing to take proactive steps in these kinds of situations?" she said.

While post-conviction review teams are not unique to Manhattan or even New York City, Pace Law School professor Bennett Gershman called the efforts by Bragg's office a "very new, novel, pioneering type of prosecutorial initiative."

"Before this, even the innocence commissions were pioneering work that we hadn't seen before until fairly recently," he told Law360.

Last year, Bragg's office moved to vacate 188 misdemeanor convictions tied to eight of those same nine officers. Two of the nine were prosecuted for lying under oath and another for providing false testimony. Two others were accused of crimes involving sexual misconduct, although were never convicted of those charges. One officer was convicted of taking money, and another of accepting bribes and gifts, from an undercover cop posing as a drug dealer.

"This work is essential for improving public safety and achieving fundamental fairness," Bragg said in a statement earlier this month when his office announced its decision to vacate the cases. "We cannot stand by convictions that are built on cases brought by members of law enforcement who have violated the law."

The same day, the Legal Aid Society said it continued to call on other district attorney's offices in the city to take similar action.

Some have already started.

In January 2022, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced the dismissal of 257 convictions tied to one former NYPD detective, with the final total of cases earmarked for dismissal expected to top 500. In September, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said he planned to move for the dismissal of 378 convictions tied to 13 police officers later convicted of misconduct.

A spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz noted that Katz created a conviction integrity unit when she took office in 2020 that has so far vacated 99 convictions.

"The unit vacated 86 convictions based on the unreliable police work of former detectives later convicted of crimes committed on the job that undermined their credibility," the spokesperson said. "Another 13 convictions were vacated for reasons including improper discrimination in jury selection and newly discovered evidence."

The office of Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon has a conviction integrity review unit, but details about vacated convictions were not immediately available.

Representatives of the Brooklyn, Bronx and Staten Island District Attorney's Offices did not respond to requests for comment.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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