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Cops Violated Lawyer’s Civil Rights During Infamous ‘Criminal Mischief’ Arrest: Suit

Famed bike lawyer Adam White fights back against a specious charge for repairing a defaced plate.

6:58 AM EDT on September 19, 2023

Adam White (left) was arrested by NYPD after Sholem Klein called them about White’s attempt to undeface Klein’s plate.

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The NYPD violated the civil rights of attorney Adam White when cops wrongfully arrested him last fall after he fixed the obscured license plate of a Chevy SUV belonging to a driver who happened to be cozy with law enforcement, according to a new lawsuit set to be filed in federal court on Tuesday.

White says his arrest last November was not only physically and mentally taxing, but it also nearly spooked him into retirement from calling out the myriad of municipal workers — and their friends — who abuse the law with impunity by defacing their license plates. 

“When cops actually arrest someone for uncovering this criminal activity, it magnifies the chilling effect because not only are they at risk of physical harm, but the cops are totally not going to care,” White told Streetsblog.

The suit charges seven members of New York’s Finest, as well the man who set the whole ordeal in motion, Sholem Klein, 44, who heads the Rockaway Nassau Safety Patrol, a controversial volunteer patrol group that works in tandem with police.

“Defendant Klein’s unlawful conduct was willful, malicious, oppressive, and/or reckless, and was of such a nature that punitive damages should be imposed against him,” the 53-page complaint says. “Mr. White now brings this suit seeking redress for the violations of his own rights, as well as seeking changes to Defendant City’s policies and practices around responding appropriately, and without retaliation, to civilian complaints about illegal ‘ghost cars,’ ‘ghost plates,’ and other traffic misconduct.”

Here's what happened. On Nov. 11 at about 9:45 am, Klein spotted White removing a piece of plastic that was obscuring one letter on the car's license plate in what White believed was an intentional manner to avoid speed or red-light cameras. Klein then called 911, prompting officers from the nearby 78th Precinct to show up within minutes.

The cops then arrested White with “tight, metal handcuffs” behind his back and charged him with criminal mischief — a charge that accused White of damaging someone else’s property. (The Brooklyn DA ended up dropping the case, saying there was "Insufficient evidence to prosecute due to being unable to prove that def intended to damage [Klein's] license plate.”) 

The lawsuit raises seven claims, including false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process against Klein; unlawful seizure and false arrest, first amendment retaliation, and deprivation of fair trial rights against the NYPD; and the liability against the city. White is demanding a trial by jury, which will determine the dollar amount of damages. 

The suit specifically names six officers who showed up to the scene that day on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, including Sgt. Leighton Barrett; officers Adam Phillips, Palakpreet Kaur, Ikram Ullah, Carlos Rebolledocortes and Ahmed Ali; as well as Sgt. Kurt Klenke, who was the “approving supervisor” at the Sixth Avenue station house, whose captain later defended White's arrest.

According to the suit and notice of claim, Klein had told Ali that he volunteered with the 101st Precinct as a member of the Shomrim. He also referred to Sgt. Barrett when he arrived at the scene as "boss," which is typically a phrase used by members of the NYPD when greeting their superiors.

Klein also told Ali, "I do volunteer with the 101 Precinct. … I also work with the Fourth Precinct National Council… Shomrim, Shomrim,” the suit alleges, referring to a precinct in Long Island. “Klein made extra sure police knew he was law enforcement adjacent.”

At least one of the responding officers understood what really happened before Klein called in his favor, and that despite his claim otherwise, White had not in fact “used tools that were in his backpack to damage his plate cover.” 

“Additionally, Defendant Kaur made statements showing she knew and understood that Mr. White was telling the truth and that Mr. White had removed – not broken – the piece of plastic,” the suit says. “There was no indication that any part of Defendant Klein's license plate cover or vehicle was damaged in any way, nor were there any tools in Mr. White’s backpack, as Defendant Klein had reported.”

Klein had also falsely told the cops that White caused the same damage to his plate weeks before.

"The information was so obviously untrue,” says the suit, which contains numerous references to Streetsblog's subsequent reporting on the many law enforcement personnel who illegally cover their plate — their own form of criminal mischief.

This isn’t Klein’s first run-in with the law. In 2004, Klein, along with seven others, was indicted on charges of corporate fraud, arson, insurance fraud, and bribery, according to the Department of Justice and reports from the time.

A page from an earlier lawsuit by White on the subject of his arrest.

According to the court documents, Klein and the others also tried to bribe a New York City fire marshal with $100,000 to change the official report stating that the fire at their company, Allou Healthcare, was not arson. Klein was sentenced to four years probation. He did not serve any jail time, according to court records.

White had also previously sued the NYPD for stonewalling key evidence in his case against the driver and the NYPD, amNY reported

Klein answered when Streetsblog called his cellphone on Monday, but refused to answer any questions and quickly hung up, promising to call back. He never did and all subsequent calls went straight to voicemail.

The NYPD said it would “review the lawsuit if and when we are served.”

To hear the song "Criminal Mischief (For Adam White)," click below.

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