Brooklyn Council Member Blasts Cops for Arresting Famed Bike Lawyer For Fixing Defaced Plate
12:01 AM EST on November 16, 2022
The already embattled 78th Precinct is under even more fire this week after its rank-and-file officers cuffed a man for trying to fix a motorist’s illegally obscured license plate, throwing him behind bars and letting the scofflaw driver go without so much as a ticket.
Park Slope Council Member Shahana Hanif said on Tuesday that she is “deeply disturbed” by what happened to attorney Adam White, who represents victims of traffic violence, and who was arrested and charged with criminal mischief after removing a piece of plastic that obstructed a driver’s license plate, calling it “police misconduct” that must be explained by the precinct’s Commanding officer, Captain Frantz Souffrant. Souffrant has recently drawn ire for going MIA during an investigation into the fatal attack of a dog and his owner in Prospect Park on Aug. 3.
“It is shocking how the NYPD continues to prioritize unlawful and reckless car owners while harassing cyclists and pedestrians at every opportunity," Hanif said. "We need accountability. Adam is a Good Samaritan whose actions to hold a reckless driver accountable left him in handcuffs. This is police misconduct, plain and simple."
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 blocking 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 cops — employing it themselves.
Fed up with a system that he says fails to protect victims of road violence — like 5-year-old Jonathan Martinez, who was struck and killed in September by the driver of a pickup truck with fake tags in Queens — White took matters into his own hands and removed off the piece of plastic himself. A risky move, he admits.
Got arrested Friday and charged with Crim Mischief for removing a piece of plastic obscuring plate number meanwhile cops refused to issue ticket to this guy despite obscuring front and back plates @defacedplateNYC @NYCMayor pic.twitter.com/Hok8ptX7YG— adam white (@adamlaw50) November 14, 2022
The unidentified driver, who was still in the SUV at the time, jumped out and called police. After a van full of cops showed up, White was arrested. The two officers identified on his ticket, according to White, 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 — PL 145.00 01 — and ordered to appear in court on Dec. 1. The NYPD declined to answer questions about the case on Monday, 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.”
The same officers refused to write the driver a ticket, according to White, who believes the driver may be either a municipal employee or adjacent because he also had tinted windows and a yellow light on his dash. He has also racked up 26 violations since 2019, including six for speeding in school zones, according to city records via How’s My Driving.
The charge of criminal mischief is an accusation of intentionally damaging another person’s property, for which the monetary value of damage caused is irrelevant, according to the statute and attorneys familiar with the case.
But the idea that White intentionally tried to damage the driver's property doesn’t hold water, according to White's attorney Gideon Oliver, who likened the action to something innocuous. And Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez should drop the case, he added.
“I don’t think they had probable cause to arrest him for criminal mischief and none to prosecute him. It’s not like he broke something off, clearing a leaf would be the same kind of thing,” said Oliver. “The DA should take a look at this and dismiss the charges.”
Another attorney who also represents victims of traffic violence said he applauds White for bringing attention to the pervasive crime of ghost cars because in the case of a crash it is more difficult to hold a reckless driver accountable.
“He’s a good guy and a good lawyer — he had good intentions, he was frustrated by a system in a police department that does not prosecute for this offense," said the personal injury lawyer (and White's competitor) Daniel Flanzig. "When you can't identify a vehicle, I share his frustration, when a car strikes someone and the plate is either a temp tag or obscured."
But whether the charge sticks will depend on Brooklyn's top prosecutor and the judge assigned to the case. It’s not uncommon for police to be arrest-happy and overcharge, according to Jennvine Wong, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project.
“It says a lot about the discretion of officers. It does point to more of these systemic issues we see in the criminal legal system with police having discretion to overcharge people more often than not,” she said.
The mayor's office declined to comment. And neither the NYPD nor Souffrant responded to a request for comment.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at email@example.com
More from Streetsblog New York City
Manhattan Pol Upset at Delayed Rollout of Electrified Citi Bike Docks
"I urge the Department of Transportation and Con Edison to expedite the electrification of [Citi Bike] stations," Erik Bottcher wrote to the colossuses of conveyance and current last Friday.
Thursday’s Headlines: Victory on Underhill Edition
Mayor Adams has decided to allow the agency to move forward with its plans to improve safety by finishing the Underhill Avenue bike boulevard. Plus other news.
Pols Want Covered Bike Parking at Parks, City Buildings
More parking in parks, but in a good way!