Thursday, March 28, 2013

NYC Settles Claim Of Race Based Transfers of Park Police Assigned To Battery Park City

City Investigates Fight Between PEP Officer and Battery Park City Resident
Adam Pratt, a Battery Park City resident who has had numerous run-ins with Park Enforcement officers, is seen here in a YouTube video being led to an ambulance in handcuffs on January 29, 2011 after a confrontation with officers.  According to a lawsuit filed by officers Mr. Pratt allegedly struck a female Park Enforcement (PEP) officer and assaulted another officer, a 62-year-old while attempting to flee. 

A few months after the incident eight dark skinned PEP officers were transferred and eight light skinned ones were bought in.  In the video Capt. Falcone can be heard saying that one of his officers was assaulted, yet no charges were filed and the summons issued to Mr. Pratt mysteriously disappeared.  The Parks Department blamed the Police Department for losing the tickets.  PEP officers and their union Local 983 claim the Parks Department and  Battery Park City Authority tried to sweep the incident under the rug in an effort to protect the City's multi-million dollar annual contract for PEP services and promote, "customer service." 

During the incident Mr. Pratt shouted that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was his neighbor and that he knew him according to the complaint.


By Geoffrey Croft

The City of New York and the Parks Department agreed to settle a Federal Civil Rights Discrimination lawsuit filed two years on behalf of Park Enforcement Patrol officers (PEP) in Battery Park City. The suit claimed the officers had been discriminated against and unfairly treated in violation of their civil rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment based on their color and race. 

Battery City Park residents led by then Battery Park City Authority president Gayle Horowitz, demanded the black officers to be transferred out and white officers to be transferred in. 

The suit alleges that then New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe succumbed to Horowitz’s and residents’ pressure to move out dark skinned officers-setting the stage for Horowitz to take credit with her residents and make the false public statement that she got the transferred officers fired.  (Ms. Horwitz resigned In October admist an ongoing controversy over the long-delayed opening of the $55 million Asphalt Green, community center.)

13 individual officers and Local 983 agreed to a monetary settlement.  The City has agreed to pay $ 165,500 in total including attorneys fees.

Although the involuntary transfers all occurred on the same day in March 2011 the black officers transfer orders were back dated by the Parks Department to months earlier in an obvious effort to cover up and avoid exposure to claims of discrimination and unequal treatment.  The white officer's transfer orders however were dated correctly.  Finally,  with a clean sweep,  the black female sergeant who supervised the day tour was involuntarily transferred to the night shift.  Ostensibly,  so that she would have little interaction with Battery Park’s predominately white residents.

A flier targeting PEP officers that was put up around Battery Park City. (Images: NYC Park Advocates)  

The Battery Park City Authority has a $ 2.7 million annual contract with the City to provide PEP services in Battery Park City. 

Prior to the unlawful transfers, the Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers who patrol the park’s 35 acres and surrounding streets consistently complained that they were rarely backed by upper management within the city.  Rather, the officers’ claimed that, the city seemingly cedes authority over its officers, in violation of Civil Service Law, to the Battery Park Authority in an effort to protect and maintain the lucrative private security contract it has with the Authority.

The environment in which the black officers patrolled was routinely saturated with hostility including graffiti containing Nazi symbols and racist comments (photographs of the graffiti are in the possession of the city and upon information and belief the graffiti was made by certain residents of Battery Park)  posters, and anti-PEP chalk drawings on the sidewalks were also displayed. 

Officers saw  "PEP Niggers Out"  scrawled on a park bench in black marker opposite 70 Little West Street. 

This unlawful behavior reached a climax in January 2011 the suit claims when a white Battery Park City resident, Adam Pratt attacked and assaulted a black female officer and a 62-year-old black male officer.  The white resident was ultimately arrested and brought to Bellevue Hospital by EMS as an Emotionally Disturbed Person for psychiatric evaluation.

Pratt reportedly became "violent" with the EMS personnel in the ambulance and was classified as an "emotionally disturbed person," an FDNY spokesman said.  

The supervisor Capt. at the scene of the incident was Adrain Benepe's former driver, Eddie Falcone who allowed a friend of Mr. Pratt's to ride in the ambulance to the hospital which is against regulations.  Video of PEP officers who accompanied Mr. Pratt shot inside Bellevue Hospital was subsequently released on YouTube.  

Mr. Pratt was subsequently released with no assault charges and his summons for disorderly conduct mysteriously disappeared all in what the officers’  and Local 987 claim is an effort by the Battery Park City Authority and the Parks Department's management to promote positive public relations and promote "customer service."  In a deposition the Parks Department claimed the NYPD lost the summons issued to Mr. Pratt.

At Bellevue Hospital Captain Falcone told the assorted PEP officers that it would not look good for public relations purposes if Pratt was arrested and instructed an officer to issue him assorted summons insread the suit claims. 

Videos of PEP officers being confronted in Battery Park City by are still routinely posted on YouTube by Mr. Pratt including during one filmed during an evacuation during Hurricane Sandy.

"Watch this, watch this," Mr. Pratt says moments before PEP Capt. Falcone politely asks him to leave the promenade. 

Pratt has repeatedly claimed that PEP officers have a "vendetta" against him.  After the incident he filed a $5 million lawsuit against the City and alleging "false imprisonment, false and unlawful arrest, excessive use of force,  assault and battery and violation of the claimant's civil rights.

Assistant Parks Commissioner Michael Dockett and Inspector Robert Reeves, who oversee the PEPs, attended a meeting weeks after the January incident and committed to work with the residents.

"We are going to fix this problem," Reeves said.

In the ensuing weeks the Parks Department implemented customer service and conflict resolution training for the officers.

The black officers were subjected to numerous interrogations by the city and were ultimately involuntarily transferred pursuant to back dated orders,  despite not having been accused or involved in any misconduct.

The officer's lawsuit claims January incident was white washed and resulted in the additional involuntary transfer out of Battery City Park of five (5) of some of the most productive and senior officers who are dark skinned and the simultaneous transfer into Battery Park of eight (8) white and light skinned officers.  

One of the transferees, a white sergeant working in Central Park who had requested a transfer to Battery Park only weeks earlier and was told there were no openings, asked “ why now?” and his supervisor indicated that it was because of the color of his skin. 

According to a statement the settlement will not address remedying the blatant disrespect by residents for the officers and the laws they are sworn to uphold. The lawsuit alleged that the outrageous and despicable comments and epitaphs made towards the minority officers, the hostile work environment and the inability to perform their function have gone unchecked by either the city or the Authority.  The City refused to address any injunctive relief requested by the Union including the creation of a committee dedicated to improving relations between the officers and the BPC community.

The 13 individual officers and Local 983 agreed to a monetary settlement, and 12 of the officers agreed to give the 13th officer who was the victim of the January 2011 physical attack by the White BPC resident,  a share of their monies to help compensate him because his injuries have not resolved and the City is threatening his job.

Local 983 Vice President and Urban Park Ranger Joe Puleo has been critical of the Park Department’s laissez faire attitude and inaction which he often cites as the reason for public safety compromises in the parks. 

The suit was filed by Linda M. Cronin of Cronin & Byczek,  LLP in the United States District Court,  Southern District of New York– on behalf of the PEP officers and members of Local 983 and AFSCME and AFL-CIO.

Nearly 10 years ago Cronin‘s firm got a jury verdict on behalf of 22 dark skinned NYPD officers when the jury found that NYPD was liable for virtually the identical unlawful conduct.  NYC lost a Second Circuit Appeal and a bid to appeal to the United States Supreme Court on the $ 1.3 million dollar jury verdict for the illegal involuntary transfer of black officers into the 70th Precinct in the wake of the Abner Louima incident. 

The environment in which the black officers patrolled was routinely saturated with hostility including graffiti containing Nazi symbols and racist comments was made by certain residents of Battery Park.  Posters, and anti-PEP chalk drawings on the sidewalks were also displayed. 

Officers saw "PEP Niggers Out" scrawled on a park bench.

Read More:

13 minority Parks Department workers get $165,000 settlement after 
being transferred out of Battery Park City in favor of lighter-skinned workers
New York Daily News - March 27, 2013 -  BY Ginger Adams Otis 

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