Mimesis Law
21 November 2017

NYPD’s Integrity at the Point of a Gun

Feb. 20, 2017 (Fault Lines) – There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon, View of the World from 9th Avenue, about the way Manhattanites see the rest of America – or maybe the rest of America sees Manhattanites:

With respect to guns, NYC’s definitely in a league of its own. There aren’t half a dozen ranges in the entire town. The city‘s weighed down with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation: you need an expensive license just to shoot a handgun in the five boroughs, and most people can forget about getting their hands on a still more exclusive carry permit.

The most visible gun users by far are the NYPD. And they’ve been working overtime to give their fellow citizens the impression that no one can be trusted with a gun. From sticking handguns in people’s faces for recording them to the Akai Gurley incident to their consistently disastrous performance in active shooter situations,[1] there’s hardly a buffoonish breach of gun etiquette that hasn’t happened on the cops’ watch. (And then there’s their penchant for shooting themselves and others in the foot.)

The result is that New Yorkers are scared of firearms. Really scared. In August of last year, a Queens cop keeled over in the street after he got shitfaced watching Monday Night Raw. The New York Post, unable to contain its delight at the impending clicks, wrote a half-jeering, half-trembling condemnation of what happened. Why? Because while he was unconscious, the cop’s gun was on his waistband – in full view.

NYC‘s draconian regulations and the NYPD’s role as gatekeeper have led to incompetence, shenanigans… and also corruption. In a notorious incident last year, a Brooklyn businessman, Alex Lichtenstein, was charged and three License Division officers were demoted after allegations surfaced that Lichtenstein had been bribing them to give carry permits to his branch of the Shomrim, a form of Orthodox Jewish community watch.[2]

Another such case surfaced on February 16, when Manhattan DA Cy Vance announced charges against two detectives, Sasha Cordoba and Kevin Desormeau, accused of fabricating the details of an arrest for gun possession.

According to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, on November 6, 2014, the defendants—two New York City Police Officers—arrested a 38-year-old man inside of a residential building on West 175th Street for possessing a gun. They then claimed to their supervisor, to an Assistant District Attorney, and in paperwork filed with the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, that the man had threatened another person with the firearm and that they observed the gun in his waistband at the time of the arrest.

Cordoba decided to perjure herself to that effect before the grand jury, and she submitted these “facts” in a search warrant application and the arrestee’s criminal complaint. But prosecutors claim that’s not how any of it went down.

Interviews, surveillance video, and text messages between DESORMEAU and another individual revealed the defendants’ claims to be false, and the search of the apartment and the subsequent recovery of the firearm to be unlawful. As a result, the underlying firearm possession case was dismissed.

The NYT has a little more detail. It seems Detective Cordoba couldn’t keep her story straight:

The detectives told a sergeant in the 33rd Precinct that they had encountered a man standing in a hallway holding a gun, according to court records. Detective Cordoba told an assistant district attorney that she then pulled a gun from the man’s waistband and handed it to Detective Desormeau, who removed several bullets.

Detective Cordoba later told a grand jury that the man had opened an apartment door with the gun visible in the waistband of his pants.

Reading between the lines, it appears Cordoba and Desormeau wanted to search the arrestee’s apartment but had neither probable cause nor a warrant. Instead, they did it anyway, hit on something incriminating and fudged the order of events to justify the intrusion.[3]

The fact they found a gun may also explain the change in Cordoba’s story. Under Maryland v. Buie (1990), police are authorized to conduct “protective sweeps” incident to arrest inside somebody‘s premises if they have reason to believe there are other dangerous people around. However, if Cordoba and Desormeau encountered the man and his illegal gun in a hallway like they originally claimed, they wouldn’t have had cause to move on to and conduct a warrantless “sweep” of his home.

Cordoba and Desormeau, both of whom are charged with felonies including first-degree perjury and offering a false instrument for filing, were arraigned on Thursday and released without bail. That’s a courtesy NYC judges tend not to extend to poor black shoplifters, or indeed anyone without a badge. Like the Second Amendment law that argues against its anti-gun regulations, New York tends to honor its rules for bail, which provide that money bail may only be set in flight-risk cases, in the breach.

But on the whole, this indictment seems like an example of a genuinely good thing. Of course, it’s heartening to see charges brought against cops, something that still happens far too rarely. But it’s also that the charges were brought by the Manhattan DA and his Public Corruption Unit, not Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the city‘s self-styled anti-corruption crusader.

It‘s imperative that municipal governments learn to weed corruption out of their own PDs. As eight years of ineffective DoJ “interventions” under Obama showed, relying on the feds to reform PDs doesn’t work. And that’s doubly true now that we’ve got Trump, whose Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, opposes getting DoJ involved at all. As Fault Lines contributor Sam Bieler argues, the only alternative is for cities and local electorates to handle the work of reform themselves. Cases like this one show that it’s possible.

Real police reform is painstaking work, built out of individual indictments, not grandstanding DoJ reports. Cy Vance and his prosecutors deserve credit for doing their jobs. New Yorkers may be a unique bunch, but they pay taxes like everyone else[4] and surely expect no less. With the raw deal they’re already getting on guns, the last thing they need is police officers willing to exploit their fears to circumvent the law when it suits them.

[1] Transcript of a conversation between the author and the editor:

“Today’s post is all about New Yorkers. Specifically, how you guys go green at the sight of a gun.”

“It’s true. We do. Have you ever noticed how likely NYPD is to hit its target?”

[2] In a sobering reminder of how difficult it is to get licensed in the Big Apple, Lichtenstein was reportedly offering $6,000 per permit. And he probably got a bulk discount: he stands accused of ordering nearly a million dollars‘ worth.

[3] Assuming, that is, that the allegations in the press release and indictment are true.

[4] If not more so.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • Jim Tyre
    20 February 2017 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    There’s a famous New Yorker cartoon

    Have you ever noticed that Nebraska is giving the finger to New York? One wonders whether Judge Kopf agrees with the sentiment. ‘-)

    • David Meyer Lindenberg
      20 February 2017 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      Please. I think much too highly of Judge Kopf’s acumen to consider the idea that he might not.