By Arthur Z. Schwartz
It isn’t often that I write about cases I lose, but this month I just must.
During the third week of May I represented a former neighbor (whose privacy I will respect by calling him “J”) in a civil rights trial arising out of his arrest in 2014. The arrest was astounding. J lived on Bank Street, and at 11:30pm on a mid-June night he was out walking his 55-pound Black Lab. It was an amazingly quiet night, no cars on the streets. As J crossed Charles Street, at Bleecker, he saw a police car coming up Charles from the east with its lights flashing. Then he heard a “whoop, whoop,” not realizing it was meant for him. On the southwest corner of Bleecker and Charles the police car pulled over and PO Israel Torres jumped out an called out to J. J walked over and Torres yelled “do you realize that you walked in front of a police car?” J said he was not aware and apologized. Torres was agitated. “Do you want to get arrested?” J said, “of course not, I respect my local cops.” Torres told him to turn around and he slapped handcuffs on J that were exceedingly tight. Then he asked for ID. J said he didn’t have any but volunteered that he lived 2 blocks away. Torres then told him to walk, while his partner, a female officer, took the dog’s leash. They walked a third of a block to the back side of the 6th Precinct. Torres stopped, pushed J, who was complaining about the cuffs, against a wall and said, “do you want to end this now?” J was scared and said nothing.
PO Torres walked J through the 6th Precinct to the desk, where a Sergeant asked, “what do we have here?” Torres said “jaywalking.” J complained to the desk Sergeant about how painful the cuffs were and he was told to shut up. Torres then got J’s “pedigree” (his words) and while the Sergeant ran a warrant check J was put in a cell. Torres then entered, emptied his pockets, and took off the cuffs. J had been cuffed 20 minutes or so and his wrists were red and swollen. A few minutes later J was let out of the cell and was given a summons for jaywalking.
J called me shortly thereafter, and we filed a claim for excessive use of force. Unfortunately, we could not sue for “false arrest” because, in fact, he had jaywalked, and technically one can be arrested for jaywalking. So, we sued about the cuffs.
It took 5 years to get the case to trial. On the eve of trial, the City offered J $10,000 to settle. He told me that my firm’s 1/3 of that would not leave our office paid properly for more than 150 hours of work, so he said no. The trial was all of 2 days, and it went to the jury on the 3rd day. They had been told that a constitutional excessive force claim could not be established without serious injury. They deliberated for 5.5 hours on that issue, and a nurse on the jury convinced the other jurors that the MRI results we put in didn’t establish serious injury. At 4pm on Day 3 the jury came back and said, “no violation.”
I got to meet with them afterwards, and to a person they all told me that if the case had been about the arrest, they would have all voted against Torres. “What kind of cop gives a ticket for jaywalking at 11:30 at night in the West Village, and then cuffs a local resident?” asked one juror. “Everyone in NYC jaywalks.”
She was right. Israel Torres is a disgrace to the NYPD. We don’t need cops in the Village who mistreat locals. Torres was self-righteous from the start, and high-fived his lawyer after the verdict came back in. I want to start a campaign to get Israel Torres out of the 6th Precinct. I may even start a picket each week at the precinct. I want Captain O’Hare to know that we Villagers don’t want that kind of policing in our community. Interested in joining me? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arthur Schwartz is the Village Democratic District Leader and President of Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm.