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Cops Arrest Famed Bike Lawyer For Fixing a Driver’s Obscured License Plate 

The plate attorney Adam White fixed and was arrested for. Photo: Adam White

A lawyer who represents victims of traffic violence landed in some legal trouble of his own after cops cuffed him for trying to fix a motorist's illegally obscured license plate, throwing him in a jail cell for several hours and charging him with criminal mischief.

Adam White, an attorney at the firm Vaccaro and White, says he was biking to work last Friday on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn when he spotted a Chevy SUV with a piece of plastic obstructing a single digit on its license plate — a common (yet illegal) practice that helps drivers evade traffic cameras or tolls, or flee after hit-and-runs. Mayor Adams has pledged to crack down on the practice, despite members of his own administration — and many copsemploying it themselves.

Fed up with his own calls to 311 for low-level offenses like placard abuse or parking in the bike lane that have gone nowhere — or, in other instances, have lead to threatening calls from members of New York’s Finest —White said he took matters into his own hands and engaged in some — admittedly risky — citizen vigilantism since he says it was unlikely that any cop who may have showed up would’ve done anything. 

“This is what I do for a living. People are getting killed and maimed all over the city, and you can’t identify a vehicle. It’s undermining all laws, speed cameras. Police don't do anything about it,” said White. “It’s becoming more and more rampant.” 

But White said he didn’t realize the driver was still sitting in the SUV in question near St. Marks Avenue as he started removing the piece of black plastic covering the single letter G in the seven-character plate. The driver jumped out, threatening to call the police for defacing his property, and White invited him to do so. 

“I said, ‘Dude, you can't cover your plate. It’s illegal,’” he told the driver, whose car, with tinted windows and a yellow light on its dash,  White has spotted before. 

The driver, who White believes may be either a municipal employee or adjacent, has racked up 26 violations since 2019, including six for speeding in school zones, according to city records via How’s My Driving

Not long after their verbal altercation, White says a squad car of cops from the 78th Precinct pulled up — the same station house whose rank-and-file officers have drawn backlash after botching an investigation into the fatal attack of a dog and his owner in Prospect Park on Aug. 3.

With the cops now there, the driver accused White of damaging his license plate. But White claims he never touched it, only removing the piece of plastic that concealed the full plate number, correcting what should have been the crime that day.

"It had no value except to obstruct this plate," said White. 

And then out of nowhere, White said, cops started arresting him with metal handcuffs behind his back. According to his ticket, White says, the two officers who formalized his summons were Police Officer Adam Phillips and Sgt. Kurt Klenke. In 2007, as an officer in the 75th Precinct, Klenke was charged with abuse of physical force against a 13-year-old Black girl, according to NYPD misconduct records. But the case never played out with the Civilian Complaint Review Board because Klenke resigned in 2008, according to city records. It's unclear what exactly happened or the timeline of  his employment history with the NYPD, but at some point after his 2008 resignation, he rejoined the force and is now a sergeant in the 78th.

White says they drove him to the Sixth Avenue station house, where he was locked in a six-by-four-foot cell for five hours before being charged with criminal mischief and ordered to appear in court on Dec. 1. The NYPD declined to answer questions about the case, but provided Streetsblog with a brief narrative that describes the car driver with the defaced plate as the victim:

"Upon arrival officers were informed by a 44-year-old male victim [that] a 58-year-old male damaged his property on his vehicle."

Meanwhile, White says, the same officers refused to write the driver a summons for his obstructed plate, or tinted windows, because they said they didn't "observe" it. White says he’s going to fight to have his ticket dismissed.

"They use excuse when they don't wanna give a ticket, it's par for the course," he said. "I’m shocked they arrested me. It’s very crazy. I’m gonna make the most of it by challenging the system and the ticket, and doing what I have to do to draw attention to cops not doing any of this stuff."

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