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Police Misconduct

City Pays $150K to Settle Suit Over Cops Who Harassed Man Who Reported Police Parking Misconduct

Justin Sherwood and his lawyer will pocket $152,000 to settle his federal civil rights suit against the city and several officers who harassed him following his 311 calls.

Photos: Streetsblog

Slime pays.

The city agreed to pay out more than $150,000 in a settlement to a Brooklyn man who found himself on the receiving end of harassing phone calls and texts from police officers after he reported illegal cop parking on 311.

Justin Sherwood will pocket $24,000 to settle his federal civil rights suit against the city and several officers, while his attorneys will receive $132,500 to cover legal expenses and fees. Sherwood will also receive $500 each from two cops who were not represented by the city because they have existing disciplinary cases that the city itself is waging against the officers.

Sherwood was pleased ... to a point.

"While I am proud of this lawsuit victory, it should serve as a rallying point for demanding more robust accountability measures and systemic changes within the City of New York," he said in a statement. "It underscores the need for comprehensive reform to ensure that public employees are held accountable for their actions and that city residents can rely on the government to address their legitimate concerns promptly and effectively. The fight for a safer, more accessible, and accountable city must continue beyond the courtroom, and I am committed to seeing that fight through."

One of Sherwood’s lawyers tempered his excitement over the win by the fact that the NYPD did not discipline three of the four officers named in the case (and only docked a fourth officer a vacation day).

"The lack of discipline in Mr. Sherwood’s case sends a strong message to not only the defendants in this case but all NYPD members that they can get away with illegally parking, ignoring illegally parked vehicles, failing to respond to 311 complaints about illegally parked vehicles, falsifying records about those to 311 complaints, and misusing access to private information about, as well as retaliating against and harassing, people who make such complaints," the lawyer, Gideon Oliver, said.

The saga began in 2021 when the then-anonymous Sherwood told Streetsblog that he was receiving the anonymous calls from what he believed were members of New York's Finest after he made dozens of complaints to 311 about officers from the 84th Precinct and Transit Bureau 30 stashing their private cars in the then-unprotected bike lane and on the sidewalk on Schermerhorn Street, and on nearby Smith, Jay, and Hoyt streets.

The retaliatory phone calls came on each of the three days that Sherwood filed dozens of 311 complaints between Aug. 13 and Sept. 10. All 49 of the complaints 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 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.

How Streetsblog covered the failure of the NYPD to follow up on 311 complaints. Click to read.Graphic: Martin Schapiro

“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 believes that impersonator was NYPD Officer John Madera, one of the officers who is on the hook for $500.

After Streetsblog's first story was posted, Sherwood received a chilling text message from another apparent member of the NYPD that said, “Keep fucking around.” Sherwood believes that text came from Det. Samantha Sturman, who was also ordered to pay $500, or another officer, Arthur Sturman, who is related to Dot. Sturman.

Before filing his suit in federal court, Sherwood brought his harassment case to the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and later the Department of Investigation. The CCRB and DOI later confirmed Sherwood's allegations.

The CCRB substantiated allegations against both Sturmans for “discourtesy" and "abuse of authority," 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.”

City lawyers sought the dismissal of the case earlier this year, but federal judge Brian Cogan — an appointee of President George W. Bush — shot it down in aggressive fashion.

"I don't have any question [that Sherwood was] engaging in protected conduct," Cogan said from the bench in May. "This [Making 311 complaints] is petitioning the government, OK? So I don't think there's any question about protected conduct."

The judge also indicated that if the case had gone to trial, the city would likely lose because the NYPD cannot be involved in "chilling" the public's right to make 311 complaints. He said from the bench that most people would have been intimidated out of filling 311 complaints due to the police behavior suffered by Sherwood.

"And I think that's important," Cogan said. "Any reasonable person would be deterred and chilled."

He also indicated that Reis's actions were "part of a pattern of conduct here and the pattern is not that hard to discern, you know. ... He called [Sherwood] 15 times after the 311 complaints, that he refused to give his name and then hung up — and that was really the starting point for what was to follow."

The settlement with the city and the two officers does not require either party to admit wrongdoing, which Cogan suggested seems to be part of the problem. Illegal parking by cops and other city employees is so blatant that "it's implausible that they didn't know about it. ... It kind of reminds me of the scene with Claude Rains in 'Casablanca' when he's confronted and he says, 'I'm shocked — shocked — that there is gambling going on.'"

One of Sherwood's lawyers, Remy Green of Cohen & Green, agreed that the lack of admission of wrongdoing — which is standard in settlements — is part of the problem.

"As this case shows, the NYPD's perennial, petulant power trip continues apace, even over the smallest check — reporting them for (undisputedly) illegal parking," Green said in a statement that referenced Cogan's appreciation of the Bogart classic. "And while the six-figure result should lead to changes, because the NYPD does not pay settlements (or pay them any mind), it is only taxpayers that suffer for the city's refusal to ever check any of the excesses of its police department."

The lawsuit indeed alleged that the city, including ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mayor Adams are complicit in allowing such harassment to go on, and for not taking action against placard abuse by cops.

“The city has not only tolerated, but actively fostered, a lawless atmosphere within the NYPD on this front,” the suit said.

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.

Read the settlement for yourself by clicking here.

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