Tracy Jarrett reports on the trial of NYPD detective Jason Arbeeny, a scandal that has rocked the NYPD.
Detective Jason Arbeeny arrived in court this morning in blue jeans and a navy blue sports coat having no idea that he was about to catch a break from the judge.
He had been on trial for three weeks during which the prosecution had mounted its case alleging that Arbeeny had not only defrauded the department by filing false documents, but he had known that fellow officers had been planting drugs on defendants in order to boost their arrest reports.
Arbeeny’s wife took her seat in the second row of the courtroom. His lawyer was scheduled to begin making the case for Arbeeny’s defense. But first Judge Gustin Reichbach had a ruling to announce.
“I’m not sure that I see an agreement between the defendant and others,” he said, referring to the connection between Arbeeny and other narcotics detectives on the Brooklyn South Squad who have been accused of planting drugs.
“I’m not sure that there is any evidence that this was an organized practice. People can commit the same crime individually of each other and it doesn’t make it a conspiracy theory,” he concluded.
He then gave the prosecution a chance to summarize its case. Arbeeny’s face turned red and his lips tightened. In a seat behind him, his wife held her hand to her mouth listening intently.
Judge Reichbach leaned back in his chair, poured a glass of water, and continued, “I dismiss counts one and two of conspiracy.”
Conspiracy was the most serious charge against Arbeeny and now he appeared to relax. But Arbeeny was not off the hook–the judge did say that it was not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Arbeeny hadn?t planted drugs on a defendant.
The judge called for a ten-minute break before the defense would begin its case. Arbeeny walked out of the courtroom slightly hunched over, but calm, and signaled for his wife to meet him outside.
The trial of Jason Arbeeny has drawn a great deal of attention in recent weeks, as yet another instance of alleged police corruption. Last week, former detective Stephen Anderson testified that planting drugs on, and then arresting, innocent civilians in order to meet NYPD “buy and bust” quotas is a common occurrence. This practice is known as “flaking.” Anderson’s testimony was followed by that of Melanie Perez, former crack addict and NYPD informant, who accused an officer of giving her crack cocaine in exchange for sexual favors.
Arbeeny is one of eight narcotics detectives under investigation in connection with accusations that a group of detectives in the Brooklyn South Narcotics Squad were not turning in all of the drugs that they confiscated in busts, and instead later planted those drugs as evidence in different cases. While according to a New York Times article, only one witness, Yvelisse DeLeon, has directly implicated Arbeeny in planting drugs on civilians, the testimonies of Anderson and Perez are not being taken lightly.
Gabriel Sayegh of The Drug Policy Alliance issued a statement saying that Anderson’s testimony sheds light on larger internal issues facing the NYPD: “One of the consequences of the war on drugs is that police officers are pressured to make large numbers of arrests, and it’s easy for some of the less honest cops to plant evidence on innocent people.”
In the same statement, Sayegh said, “The drug war inevitably leads to crooked policing and quotas further incentivize such practices.”
Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne have repeatedly denied that the department implements any quota system for arrests or ticketing. But, in 2008, the same year Arbeeny and the eight other officers were charged, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft secretly recorded his supervisors telling officers that they had to make a certain number of arrests, even if that meant manipulating crime statistics.
Arbeeny’s trial comes at a moment when the NYPD is under considerable scrutiny. The recent arrest of Michael Daragjati, a Staten Island police officer accused of falsely arresting an African American man and stating “I fried another N****,” has drawn attention to the department’s stop and frisk policy, as well as to questions of corrupt policing.
Such accusations are hardly new. October 18th marked the 40th anniversary of the Knapp Commission, where detective Frank Serpico became the first officer to testify against police corruption. In 1994, 30 officers stationed in Harlem were charged with falsifying arrest records, selling narcotics, stealing cash, and shaking down drug dealers. And in 2004 prosecutors investigated nine current and former NYPD members allegedly involved in drug related scandals.
This year, the New York City comptroller’s office reported that police action claims filed against the police jumped to 3,987 in 2010, from 3,390 in 2009. The report shows that as a result of this leap, the cost of police action claims has increased by 15 percent in just one year, totaling $56.4 million.
In the case of Stephen Anderson, who testified at the Arbeeny trial and who was charged with flaking, the two men who were wrongfully charged settled their suit for $300,000. The Daily News reports that it has cost approximately $1.2 million to settle claims related to “flaking” this year, with each settlement ranging between $1,500 and $300,000; a record high.
Meanwhile, in the Brooklyn Supreme Court Arbeeny, his wife and his lawyer returned to court looking confident. Asked if he was scared, Arbeeny looked at his attorney, Michael Elvaz, who quickly answered “No.”
Arbeeny shook his head in agreement.
“No,” Elvaz said again, and shared a laugh with Arbeeny.