Tipster Sues NYPD for Harassment Over 311 Complaints about Illegal Parking
The once anonymous tipster who alleged that members of the NYPD had harassed and threatened him after he reported the cops for illegal parking has now publicly filed a lawsuit in federal court against the NYPD and the city for violating his First Amendment rights.
Justin Sherwood first spoke with Streetsblog nearly two years ago, when he says he started getting texts and calls from people he believes were members of the NYPD — but who either obscured their identities or impersonated others — after he logged dozens of complaints for cars, including those belongings to cops, illegally parked in a bike lane in Downtown Brooklyn.
And even after Sherwood anonymously went to the press about the harassment, another alleged member of New York’s Finest continued the failed intimidation tactics, including by sending a threatening text that said, “Keep fucking around.”
Sherwood, who fears renewed retaliation now that his name and lawsuit are out there, says he just wants the NYPD to be held liable for its actions, including for “casting a chill on (his) ability and willingness to continue to report individuals who park illegally in bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus stops,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by attorney Gideon Oliver.
But Sherwood says he’s not going to give up fighting for safer streets.
“I’m hoping to hold the cops accountable,” said Sherwood, who is seeking monetary damages. “I feel strongly about the issues because illegally parked vehicles on the sidewalk creates a danger for pedestrians and cyclists.”
The Oct. 18, 2021 text message followed a series of retaliatory phone calls months prior, on each of the three days that Sherwood filed dozens of 311 complaints between Aug. 13 and Sept. 10. All 49 were marked as “closed,” though Sherwood says the situation was never resolved and the cars were never moved, or just came back again the next day.
The first call was on Aug. 13, when the caller identified himself as a member of the NYPD, but refused to give his name. The second was on Aug. 26 when someone identified himself as Det. Sturman called the Sherwood a “dickhead.”
And the third was on Sept. 10 when someone, who Sherwood believes was a cop impersonating a 311 operator, told him he would be barred from filing more complaints. According to a 311 spokesperson, representatives do not follow up directly with customers for any complaint.
“You’re speaking to a 311 operator. Why do you keep putting over the same 311 job over and over and over again? You might be barred from the system going forward,” the person said.
According to the lawsuit, Sherwood and Oliver believe that impersonator was in fact NYPD Officer John Madera.
Sherwood brought his harassment case to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and later the Department of Investigation. (The status of that case is unknown.)
And specifically named in the suit is the 84th Precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Adeel Rana, who has a long rap sheet of reckless driving of his own.
Rana admitted to operating “his personal or department vehicle in an improper fashion” while he was a lieutenant in 2017, driving “at an excessive speed,” “disobeying traffic signals,” and driving “against the flow of traffic” without police necessity, Streetsblog previously reported.
In 2018, Rana pleaded guilty to the reckless driving charge during an internal department investigation that included guilty pleas in four other violations, including 43 “wrongfully made” entries in a command log, and frequent absences or late arrivals. Under the terms of the guilty plea, he paid $517 in restitution and was docked 60 vacation days, according to the public records. An NYPD spokesperson declined to provide more details on the violations or the penalties.
According to the lawsuit, Sherwood had heard nothing of the matter for months until one day on July 26, 2022, a man claiming to be a member of the NYPD’s IAB, who said his last name was Townsend, showed up at Sherwood’s apartment saying he wanted to speak with him about a complaint he had made about a “prank phone call.”
Sherwood does not know who that person was.
According to the lawsuit, on Oct, 20, 2022, the CCRB wrote Sherwood telling him it had substantiated allegations against both Sturman for “discourtesy” and against Officer Tiagom Reis for “abuse of authority and discourtesy” for a similarly harassing call during which he failed to identify himself. And on Nov. 10, 2022, the CCRB again wrote Sherwood telling him that it had substantiated allegations against Madera for “discourtesy, abuse of authority, and making a false statement to the CCRB.”
For all four cops, the CCRB recommended that the officers be stripped of up to 10 vacation days, according to the lawsuit and the CCRB’s website.
The lawsuit also alleges that the city, including ex-Mayor de Blasio and now Mayor Adams are complicit in allowing such harassment to go on, and for not taking action against placard abuse — including from inside their own houses.
“The city has not only tolerated, but actively fostered, a lawless atmosphere within the NYPD on this front,” the suit says.
And Oliver says he hopes that the case shines a light on the problems within the NYPD.
“The suit will hopefully lead to at least more transparency about what happened over and over to Mr. Sherwood, which in turn should warm things up for other people who also report illegally parked vehicles,” he said.
The NYPD declined to comment.
One of the reasons that members of the public file so many 311 complaints is that the NYPD closes so many of them without taking action. A Streetsblog investigation in 2021 revealed that the NYPD closes thousands of service requests about driver misconduct such as illegal parking each year in under five minutes, up from only five such complaints that were closed so quickly in 2010.
As this chart shows, the NYPD’s fast-closure rate rose dramatically after 2019.