Although most acts of police misconduct remain tightly guarded NYPD secrets, it is easy to become numb to the constant stories about officers committing egregious misdeeds and receiving absolutely no consequences.
Darryl Schwartz, a New York City Police Department Officer with a long history of misconduct and disciplinary violations is a perfect example. His lowlights include:
• accidentally firing his gun without any discernible justification;
• two substantiated complaints with the CCRB for abuse of authority involving stop-and-frisk incidents;
• at least three pending separate civil rights lawsuits alleging misconduct;
• costing New York City residents $85,000 in a settlement payout;
• failing to report a domestic violence incident to his supervisors, a clear violation of Department rules;
• leaving a weapon in the backseat of his patrol car unattended;
• getting into an accident with his patrol car for which he was found at fault;
• and, to top it off, engaging in a pattern of falsified DWI arrests that have resulted in the wrongful incarceration of innocent New Yorkers.
Imagine Darryl Schwartz stripped of his badge and uniform (as he should be), and that he worked for you, or with you, or in almost any profession or capacity and ask, would he still have a job?
Clearly the answer is no: Darryl Schwartz would have been fired a very long time ago by nearly any employer.
And what was the NYPD disciplinary response to all this misconduct? Schwartz lost a grand total of 13 vacation days.That’s it. He is back on full duty– free to continue this behavior in the Black and Latinx neighborhood he purportedly “serves.”
This case is a perfect illustration of the culture of impunity that thrives amongst the NYPD and harms communities of color.
And, it gets more disturbing because Schwartz isn’t even the worst. For instance, Sergeant David “Bullethead” Grieco has been sued 31 times, leaving taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Grieco consistently violates Black and Latinx New Yorkers’ Constitutional rights, namely by savagely breaking down doors without a warrant, viciously destroying their property, and unlawfully arresting them. For this behavior, he earned the nickname Bullethead.
Like Schwartz, Bullethead is still employed by the NYPD. Do you see the pattern?
In response to the NYPD’s constant discipline problem, this February a Commission unveiled a slew of reforms, yet failed to call for the repeal of Civil Rights Law 50a, which the NYPD alleges prohibits the disclosure of officer disciplinary information.
Communities of color are terrorized by officers like Schwartz and Grieco; wider access to these records will help to hold them accountable.
Until Albany finally repeals 50a and until we have an Administration with a zero-tolerance approach to NYPD misconduct, local District Attorneys must themselves start to hold these officers accountable.
DAs have shown us repeatedly their unwillingness to do that. They don’t care about the havoc arrests can wreak in the lives of Black and Latinx New Yorkers. They rarely criminally charge cops who break the law. They prosecute cases involving arrests by habitually dishonest officers that drag on, forcing Black and Brown New Yorkers to miss work, school, lose housing, or their ability to see their children. These cases end in dismissals, acquittals or wrongful convictions, and eventually result in civil lawsuits against the city.
And the District Attorneys are complicit; they know these officers’ identities and are aware of their tricks and the harm they cause in communities of color. Yet when they do “investigate” an officer, they refuse to release their findings.
Prosecutors must reveal what they found because New Yorkers have the right to know and hold accountable the officers that are abusing their power.
The NYPD will never police itself. Albany must pass strong reforms and a future administration must act. In the interim, DAs can help change the culture of impunity by truly holding police accountable. Otherwise, officers like Schwartz and Grieco will continue to operate unchecked and further the NYPD’s legacy of abuse and violence against black and Latinx communities.
Anne Oredeko is the supervising attorney of the Racial Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society.