Citing Erroneous NYPD Report, State DMV Judge Declines to Take Action Against Driver Who Killed Lauren Davis

The officer assigned to the hearing didn't show up.

Lauren Davis. Photo: Family of Lauren Davis
Lauren Davis. Photo: Family of Lauren Davis

The family of Lauren Davis is reeling after a judge at the state Department of Motor Vehicles declined to take action against the motorist who struck and killed her on Classon Avenue last year.

Davis, 34, was biking northbound on Classon Avenue on April 15, when Jennine Chung ran her over at the intersection with Lexington Avenue. Initial police reports said Davis was biking against the direction of traffic when she was struck, but those were later revoked and amended after eyewitness testimony proved otherwise.

Chung was making a left on Lexington from Classon when she struck Davis, according to the corrected police report, indicating that she violated her right-of-way. She was eventually charged with failure to exercise due care, a mere traffic infraction.

Chung was separately cited for failure-to-yield to a pedestrian in February 2016, just two months before the fatal crash.

The DMV is supposed to hold safety hearings for motorists involved in fatal crashes. But the hearings don’t always happen, and even when they do, the outcomes are inconsistent: Judges will suspend or revoke some motorists’ licenses, but not others, with little rhyme or reason.

Davis’s mother, sister, and brother traveled from California to attend today’s hearing, and said they had been told by the NYPD Highway Patrol detective investigating the crash that he would also be there. He never showed up, and for some reason Judge Jettie Thomas only had the preliminary, incorrect police report for reference. Thomas told the Davises that that was all NYPD had passed on to the DMV.

When Davis’s mother, Lana Norton Davis, spoke to correct the victim-blaming account, Thomas would not let her. “You’re not allowed to participate,” she said. “You’re invited here as a courtesy.” Thomas proceeded to read the erroneous report.

Chung’s lawyer cited the incorrect report to argue that “the facts simply don’t establish that the motorist violated the law.”

The full, 100-page Highway Patrol report that Davis’s family has on file is not only correct, but extensive, including pictures of the crash scene, video surveillance records, and eyewitness interviews. Thomas declined to consider it, however, eventually adjourning without a decision due to lack of information.

“Ms. Chung, I’m sorry for your problems and I’m sorry that this is being stretched out,” Thomas said. “I understand that you want to deal with this, but unfortunately I feel that I can’t make a decision based on the documents in my file. I don’t think I can do justice for anyone without having someone from NYPD appear to provide additional information.”

A date has yet to be scheduled for the follow-up hearing. Chung is up for a separate DMV hearing in June, concerning the charge for failure to exercise due care.

“We’re feeling humiliated,” Davis’s sister Danielle told Streetsblog. “Our family is absolutely insulted by what has happened today. If we hadn’t been there, and no one had been there to represent Lauren, Lauren would have been blamed, and that is so wrong.”

“I can’t sit there and have someone tarnish my daughter’s name,” said Lana Norton Davis. Throughout the morning’s proceeding, Norton Davis said Thomas was dismissive toward her, declining to shake her hand while apologizing to Chung multiple times for the “inconvenience” of being held accountable for reckless driving.

“How do you get the final police report in the judge’s hands so she has the right information?” said Norton Davis. “How in world does [the judge] have the wrong information? It’s beyond belief.”

Two years ago, members of Families for Safe Streets called on the DMV, which is under the jurisdiction of Governor Cuomo, to overhaul its process for responding to fatal traffic crashes. The Davises’ experience this morning indicates that DMV hasn’t changed much since then, if at all.

  • SteveVaccaro

    This is so frustrating. The NYPD Collision Investigation Squad detectives are supposed to know of the DMV hearing and bring all the relevant evidence, but in many cases it is up to the family or their attorney to obtain the investigative file themselves before the hearing using the Freedom of Information Law, and then bring their own copy to the hearing. We have also had to call the Collision Investigation Squad to make sure they appear at the hearing. The quality of justice at these hearings should not depend on whether the victim’s family obtains its own legal representation.

  • Hilda

    This is the most absurd and tragic example of what the current justice system provides to victims and their families. And it is so completely typical.

  • ADN

    This one is just off-the-charts infuriating. Sure, we’ve come to expect no real justice for the victims of traffic violence in NYC. But to have Lauren Davis’s family forced to sit silently in this amateur-hour DMV hearing while the NYPD blows the case and this so-called “judge” heaps apologies on the person who killed their daughter… This is truly beyond the pale.

    Here’s the DMV Administrative Justice who did this. People should write her letters, call her office, make sure that she knows that she did not do her job and it’s been noticed.

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/jettie-k-thomas-b5149a59/

  • Eric McClure

    We need to develop a system to alert the advocacy community to these hearings, so that we can mobilize people to attend and at least bear witness. Harder for judges, just maybe, to act this way if there are 100 protestors outside their courtrooms.

    And the NYPD is freaking worthless. If this had been a hearing for someone coasting through a red light on a bike at a T-intersection, you can be sure the cop would’ve been there. Infuriating.

  • Ken Dodd

    All the usual ingredients here: NYPD incompetence, NYPD complacency and/or laziness (detective doesn’t show up to hearing after promising he would), outrageous disrespect for the victim and their family, and a clearly incompetent, nasty, pig headed judge who no doubt hates her job, doesn’t have any respect for the idea of criminal justice and in all likelihood sympathizes with the driver because she drives like an asshole every day too.

    My bicycle was hit at full speed from behind by a deranged motorist in a road rage attempted murder a couple of weeks ago, and needless to say the NYPD have botched their part in it so far – first of all completely neglecting to write an accident report, being unresponsive to almost 2 weeks of me trying to get them to write one, and when it finally came yesterday, handing me a report that was factually incorrect in a way that makes me look guilty. The cop who botched this report did so despite me correcting him as to the version of events multiple times on the day of the accident. His response was “don’t worry about it, if the report is wrong you can tell that to the judge at the court hearing.” I don’t even have to speculate how that’s going to go: the judge will take the NYPD report as gospel, and ignore any attempt on my behalf to set the record straight.

    There is a deeply entrenched culture of ignorance and incompetence among cops, district attorneys and judges in this city, and it’s almost as if they wear it as a badge of honor. Almost as if they delight in doling out infuriating and upsetting miscarriages of justice as a way of expressing how much they hate their career choice.

  • Ken Dodd

    Or if it had been a hearing for someone who ran over a cop at an intersection, my God we’d see some swift justice then.

  • Ken Dodd

    Reading this reminded me of the case of Clara Heyworth who was killed by a drunken, unlicensed driver in Brooklyn. The NYPD botched the case, and then a similar DMV hearing took place in which the asshole judge showed a total disregard for the facts of the case, snapped at the widowed husband when he tried to provide them, and then adopted an almost apologetic tone with the scumbag driver who of course suffered no consequence whatsoever for the killing.

    http://nyc.streetsblog.org/2014/02/28/will-the-new-york-dmv-keep-an-unlicensed-killer-on-the-road/

    And you can see the ultimate statement from the husband in this article here: “F*ck the police.”
    http://gothamist.com/2015/05/05/clara_heyworth_memorial.php

  • Eastwind 7

    In many jurisdictions, fatalities are investigated by the state police or the county sheriff.
    Perhaps its time for vehicular deaths in New York City to be investigated by the New York State Police. I am unfamiliar with New York’s DMV system, but the fact that this agency has its own courts and judges, strikes me as an invitation to corruption and incompetence.

  • Pazuzu

    That judge needs some street meds.

  • Tyler Hill

    This post seems very resigned for an activist organization. What actions can we take? Who is ultimately responsible? What are their names and titles? Who has the power to effect actual change and more importantly who should we not waste our time with? Where can pressure be applied to immediately help this family and ultimately change the law? Maybe you can leverage Trans Alts decades of activism and lay out a strategy we could follow.

  • cjstephens

    Please stop blaming the judge. I wasn’t at the hearing, but from what the article reports, she was aware of the missing evidence and made a point of saying so on the record. She can’t rule on evidence not in front of her, and none of you would want her to do so if the shoe were on the other foot. By making sure the record included references to the fact that the report wasn’t accurate, she laid the groundwork for the victim’s family to put pressure on the state to get its act together.

    It’s easy to hurl insults at the judge when you don’t like the outcome, but it is counterproductive. Judges can and should only make decisions based on the evidence and testimony in front of them. Save your anger for the NYPD for botching the paperwork and, especially, for the driver who killed this woman.

  • Lzimmermann

    The judge needs to stop apologizing to the murderer who killed this cyclist – that is a true outrage!

  • Joe R.

    It’s 2017. Why are the police still using paper reports and why isn’t there a computer system where the judge can view the police reports? If there’s an incident it should go something along the lines of the police file a preliminary accident report on the scene with a tablet or ipad which immediately goes into the system. This report can later be updated or corrected as new information becomes available but only by those with appropriate clearance (and the system will track who updated the report and why). The judge can pull up the report when hearing a case.

    No excuse for losing reports, not having the latest version in front of you, and so forth. Like I said, it’s 2017. We should have been doing it the way I mentioned for a few decades by now. Of course the police don’t want it that way because it’s convenient to lose reports if it helps you win your case.

  • cjstephens

    Actually, the judge should be polite to all the parties in front of her. Would you really want it any other way? If the judge started hectoring the driver when she has already stated she doesn’t have all the fact in front of her, it would show bias.

  • Joe R.

    Your case just points to the need for cyclists to have a camera. I’d love to be in situation where the police file an erroneous report, testify to it, and then when it’s my turn I pull out the video records. Right after the judge viewed them I would request that the officer(s) be indicted for perjury. I would also send the video and a written description of what happened in court to the media and to a number of public officials. Maybe when a few cops are made examples of this crap will stop. Also, as I said above we need cameras at every intersection so there is a video record of what happened. I’m sure the police will fight this tooth and nail as they’re the ones involved in a lot of these incidents. They couldn’t get “professional courtesy” from a camera.

  • Lori Centrella

    If you had nightly visions of your child blood in the street, you might feel differently. You will not get a sympathetic ear here for that bullshit response. Shame on you.

  • Lori Centrella

    Walk a block in our shoes, and then you can comment. Until then, recognize that you know nothing, and stay out of it.

  • Lori Centrella

    ps. you are a moron.

  • Ken Dodd

    The reports do go on computer, as far as I know they type them up when they get back to the precinct.

  • Ken Dodd

    Yep modern camera technology is ultimately how the police are going to be forced into doing their jobs properly and truthfully. Unfortunately there are a lot of them who haven’t yet moved into the 21st century and seem to have no idea how often they’re being filmed.

  • cjstephens

    I work as a judge at a different tribunal. I’m also a life-long New Yorker who has never owned a car, and I worry every day about being in the same situation as the victim in this case. Nevertheless, I still believe it is very important for everyone involved that judges remain impartial. If you got a traffic violation for riding your bike through a red light, but the ticket didn’t back it up, would you want the judge upholding the ticket based on a report that wasn’t in evidence? Of course not. Would you want the judge to be rude to you because she “knew” you were guilty, even though she had yet to issue a decision? Of course not. Instead, you are letting your emotions take over and you are hurling insults. This does not help the cause of pedestrian and cyclist safety.

  • What you say is true on its face. And, if you maintain decorum and dignity in your courtroom, then that is commendable.

    But I work in criminal law, and I know how criminal court judges treat criminal defendants. No honest observer of a criminal proceeding would ever doubt that the defendant is regarded as the inferior party.
    Notwithstanding the Constitutional presumption of innocence, defendants in criminal court are treated at best with disdain, and at worst with undisguised hostility.

    The fact that the defendant in this DMV proceeding got treatment that differs so dramatically from the treatment that criminal defendants experience illustrates the privileged status that drivers possess. While I am not suggesting that the appallingly dehumanising treatment of criminal defendants should be the model, I have to say that the judge apologising to the defendant for inconveniencing him is a bit extreme. (If a judge did that to one of my organisation’s clients, someone would throw a net over that judge and lead him or her away!)

  • cjstephens

    I’m sure your experience in criminal court is as you describe, but keep in mind that a hearing at DMV is an administrative proceeding, not a criminal trial. What the driver did may or may not have been criminal, but that is for a different judge to decide. From what I understand about how things work at DMV, the question before the judge was not “did you kill this person”; it was “should the state revoke/suspend your license.” In other words, at this hearing, the driver was not a “defendant”.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I can’t help but think that a liberal is someone who believes that police officers should be required to do their jobs properly and be held accountable, but does not believe that for anyone else working for the government.

    Whereas a conservative is the reverse, someone who believes the police is above scrutiny, but somehow believes the rest of the government should produce services for next to nothing.

    Or is that just in New York City?

  • Bobbi Koval

    Unfortunately the family is invited only as a courtesy. They can bring an attorney or a Safe Streets advocat. How do I know? I will be attending the hearing of the man who killed my son, a pedestrian, on Weds. May 3rd. He too has been blamed in the initial report and the file (freedom of info request) has not been turned over to our attorney. Hmm, delay tactics by the NYPD? I will let you know if the file comes in soon after this hearing which has taken 8 months to get onto the docket. Are the Administrative law judges too busy? Hire more because the carnage in this city is not even believable

  • Eric McClure

    I’m terribly sorry about the death of your son. That the state heaps insult on top of impossibly painful loss is a total travesty.

  • Bobbi Koval

    Yes Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets need your help! Join to obtain lobby information and public rally’s to attend

  • Bobbi Koval

    And as trivial as it may seem the expense to travel for these meetings is outrageous. I would like to create a foundation in Jacks name to pay the travel expenses for families experiencing these difficult things. Many of us don’t live in the city but our children did. Again insult to injury

  • Jeffrey Baker

    In this kind of administrative proceeding, who is charged with entering this evidence into the record? This story lacks details about how this unfolded. Someone must have filed some kind of brief prior to the start of the event. Who? Why did they present an old report? How did the judge become aware that the report was old?

  • cjstephens

    Nope. I belong to a Facebook group that skews conservative, and if you looked at the reaction to the recent United Airlines fiasco, you would see that the “obey the police at all costs” mindset, while present, was pretty thin on the ground. I would also point out that you’re not going to find many judges at the DMV, especially in NYC, who are anything but lifelong Democrats, so blaming any favoritism to the cops on political biases is off base.

  • Jesse

    For those inclined to a silver lining: the NYPD tried to make this case disappear by offering the wrong account but failed to achieve that result. It’s deeply unfair to the Davises that this horror must be dragged out further but the case was adjourned, not dismissed. And you can bet that NYPD was hoping for the latter. That said, surely this would have turned out differently if there had been a failure-to-yield misdemeanor charge in the first place. At least then it wouldn’t have been handled by the DMV. Streetsblog is right to keep on top of these issues. All these negligent abdication of duties to, and deliberate attempts to stonewall justice for the victims of traffic violence add up and make it all but impossible for victims of traffic violence and their families to see justice, not to mention sending a message to reckless drivers about their own responsibilities. Fiascos like this one need to see the light of day if we are to see any reform.

  • Vooch

    might be time to get Steve Vaccaro involved for a civil case. Steve has set a couple of precedents

  • Vooch

    in your alternative case, the killer would have also been immediately thrown in jail with a huge bail.

    plus BdB would have made a few speeches

  • Tom

    Then why did the judge apologize to only one side, instead of both, or neither. The appology by the judge comes across as a judgement. Why not wait until the facts are reviewed before apologizing to only one side?

  • Tom

    Then why apologize to only one side? Is that being polite to both sides?

  • Brad Aaron

    Go to a few of these hearings and report back on the DMV judges’ impartiality.

  • cjstephens

    I think you’re misunderstanding the purpose of this hearing. The framework here was “DMV versus motorist”, with the question being whether to pull the motorist’s license. The DMV failed to have the more recent report at the time of the hearing, causing a delay in rendering a decision and the added inconvenience (and expense) of having to re-schedule the hearing. Since the DMV screwed up, they don’t deserve an apology in this context. It’s a procedural matter. The purpose of the hearing was not about getting justice for the victim’s family – that’s a question for a different court, a different judge, and a different set of rules. That’s why the victim’s family was there only as a courtesy. They’re not parties to this proceeding. I hope that clarifies things.

  • cjstephens

    Given how little money and time the state allots to the average DMV hearing, the judges are generally trying to do their best with little information. Not every speeding ticket merits the resources we devote to a federal trial. If you want DMV judges to be able to make more thoughtful decisions, you’re going to need to pour lots and lots of money into the system. None of the DMV judges I know has an axe to grind one way or another about motorists or the cops who write the tickets.

  • cjstephens

    See my response below.

  • oxphos

    This moron of a judge needs to go. I can understand if there is a filing problem with her people and she may have the wrong information, but to dismiss the family shows she has no heart or common sense.

  • Commentary about political labeling is uselessly off-topic.

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