The New York City Law Department has successfully defended an embattled police detective in multiple civil rights suits, but in a separate case that same department is now being asked to defend the city from a suit filed by the detective, who alleges that city leaders failed to protect him from “frivolous” lawsuits.
Since joining the force in 2002, Det. David Terrell has been the target of more than 20 lawsuits that include allegations of police brutality, false arrest and other misconduct, but nine of the cases, including four since the beginning of August, have been thrown out for various reasons.
In one such case, Anthony Floyd alleged that Terrell and other officers falsely arrested him in the South Bronx in 2014 and that, while he was in custody, Terrell beat him so badly that he broke his nose and eye socket.
In a win for Terrell and the city, both represented by attorneys from the city’s Law Department, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska of the Southern District of New York dismissed the case, finding that Floyd failed to prove that Terrell was involved with the incident at all. Floyd is appealing the ruling.
But while Terrell has often found himself as a defendant in litigation, this year Terrell moved to the other side of the aisle and filed a 96-page lawsuit of his own in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York alleging a vast conspiracy to bilk the city out of settlement money and legal fees.
This “cottage industry,” which he claims has cost taxpayers and city agencies $1 billion over the past 10 years, includes lawyers for the plaintiffs he succeeded in fighting off in civil suits, a bail bonds business, a private investigation firm and complicit local reporters and media outlets who have a “liberal anti-cop” agenda.
The targets of his suit also include the New York City government, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner James O’Neill and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, thus placing Terrell in an adversarial position against the same Law Department that successfully represented him in the Floyd case and several other suits.
In his suit, Terrell alleges that the city failed to “protect his public image” as well as provide him with “individual conflict free counsel.” For example, Terrell’s suit states that the city agreed to pay a $614,500 settlement “without consulting him” to a man who says he was arrested and beaten by Terrell and other officers.
Eric Sanders, a Manhattan solo attorney and ex-NYPD officer who represents Terrell, said the city’s usual practice of defending both the officers being sued as well as the city itself means “the cop goes along for the ride,” which can put defendants such as Terrell at a “disadvantage.”
“That’s why he got crucified in the public for two years,” Sanders said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel James Horton is appearing for the city in Terrell’s civil suit; a Law Department spokesman said the city will respond to Terrell’s claims in ”due course.”
“Having represented Det. Terrell successfully in a series of cases, the basis for his lawsuit is difficult to discern,” said Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci.
Terrell alleges that city leaders and the Bronx DA are fully aware that street gangs use “unscrupulous” businesses such as the law firm of Nwokoro & Scola, which has represented plaintiffs in unsuccessful suits against the city regarding Terrell’s alleged conduct, as well as Black Ops Private Investigators and Plaintiff Funding Holding, a bail bond business also known as LawCash.
The Bronx DA’s office declined to comment.
The suit also names NBCUniversal and NBC 4 New York reporter Sarah Wallace; and Tribune Broadcasting and PIX11 reporters James Ford and Jay Dow regarding news reports on allegations that Terrell, fellow officers from the 42nd Precinct and a prosecutor from the Bronx DA’s office coerced a group of young men to testify against other individuals.
In a letter sent last month to U.S. District Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York, who presides over the case, Bruce Rosen of McCusker, Anselmi, Rosen & Carvelli, the attorney for the media defendants, called Terrell’s civil rights conspiracy claims against his clients “so vague and conclusory” that they fail to state a claim and that his clients intend to move to dismiss the case.
John Scola Jr. of Nwokoro & Scola said the allegations contained in Terrell’s lawsuit are “completely ridiculous.”
“It’s ironic that someone who has filed a frivolous lawsuit is complaining about frivolous lawsuits,” Scola said.
For its part, the city has gone on the offensive in litigation regarding Terrell and has threatened plaintiffs with sanctions in some cases, but Scola said that while it is not uncommon for the city to threaten litigants with sanctions, it rarely requests them—and, as such, they are rarely granted.
“The rules for sanctions are in place for a reason but like every other rule it can be abused,” Scola said. “Sanctions are sometimes appropriate but very rarely.”
And Sanders called the city’s threats of sanctions against plaintiffs attorneys a “day late and a dollar short” in terms of deflecting lawsuits.
Terrell was stripped of his badge and gun and has been on modified duty since 2016 after reportedly challenging a fellow cop to settle a dispute in a department-sanctioned boxing match called the “Smoker,” which the other officer perceived as a threat.