NEW YORK (AP) — New York City has agreed to pay up to $75 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging police officers issued nearly 1 million legally baseless criminal summonses over several years because they were under pressure to meet quotas.
The settlement announced Monday would allow people issued court summonses for offenses such as trespassing, disorderly conduct and urinating in public to get $150 per case, if the summons was tossed because it was deemed insufficient.
The suit was filed in a federal court in 2010 on behalf of people who were hit with 900,000 court summonses that were later dismissed for legal insufficiency.
It came amid a growing outcry over the New York Police Department's encounters with minorities. The lead plaintiff in the case, Sharif Stinson, said he was stopped twice outside his aunt's Bronx building in 2010 when he was 19 and was given disorderly conduct summonses by officers who said he used obscene language. But the officers didn't specify what the language or behavior was, and the tickets were dismissed.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called it the largest false-arrest class-action lawsuit in city history. The settlement is nearly double the $41 million deal the city made with five men who were wrongly convicted in the vicious 1989 rape and beating of a Central Park jogger.
The 2010 lawsuit includes summonses filed from 2007 through at least 2015, and the number tossed for legal insufficiency is about one-quarter of all the summonses filed during that time, according to data in the lawsuit. Insufficiency is not necessarily a lack of evidence; it may be that an officer wasn't clear enough in explaining why someone was ticketed. Summonses may also be dismissed for other reasons; the class-action lawsuit doesn't include those.
According to the settlement terms, those eligible for compensation would receive a maximum $150 per person per incident. A total of $56.6 million would be set aside, and individual payments could end up lower if more claims are made. Any funds not paid go back to the city, which is also paying $18.5 million in legal fees. Possible class members would be notified through social media and other advertisements.
The lawsuit argued police were routinely ordered to issue summonses "regardless of whether any crime or violation" had occurred to meet quotas. It cited claims by two whistleblower officers who said they were forced into quotas by precinct superiors. The quota allegations were explicitly denied in the settlement agreement filed Monday.
Under the agreement, the city said the NYPD must update and expand training and guidance reiterating to officers and their superiors that quotas are not allowed, and officers must not be mandated to make a particular number of summonses, street stops or arrests.
But the department already has undergone major changes since the lawsuit was filed, due in part to public protests and to other cases filed against the department that argued police policy wrongly targeted minorities.
The NYPD curtailed a once-widespread practice of stopping and searching people in the street. Officers now address certain quality-of-life offenses through tickets instead of criminal summonses. The summons form was revised to allow more details so fewer are dismissed.
"This agreement is a fair resolution for class members and brings an end to a longstanding and complex case in the best interests of the city," said Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter.
The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet.