The New York City government has reached a settlement with plaintiffs attorneys in a suit challenging the police department’s retention of seized cash and property in criminal cases in which the city has agreed to implement a set of reforms.
The plaintiffs, who are represented by The Bronx Defenders and attorneys from Boies Schiller Flexner, alleged in a proposed class action suit filed in 2016 that the New York City Police Department engaged in an unconstitutional practice of withholding property it seized in criminal cases after the cases were closed.
When property is seized in an arrest, it is held by the New York City Police Department until it receives a release form a district attorney’s office; DA’s offices are required by city rules to respond to requests for releases within 15 days.
But three plaintiffs alleged in a proposed class action suit filed in 2016 that the Bronx District Attorney’s Office often disregarded the deadline.
Under the terms of the settlement, the NYPD has agreed to issue vouchers to defendants in criminal proceedings for property seized by the time of their arraignment and not seize personal property such as proof of an arrestee’s identity except in special circumstances.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote of the Southern District of New York approved the settlement on Monday.
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office, which was not a defendant in the case, filed to voluntarily join the suit and has also implemented reforms.
In 2016, Bronx DA Darcel Clark created a property return unit to manage the return of confiscated property following criminal cases.
Under the agreement, the NYPD and the Bronx DA admit no wrongdoing in the case. The terms of the settlement apply to property seized in both open and closed criminal cases. The city has also agreed to give a combined $10,000 to the three plaintiffs in the case and to pay reasonable attorney fees.
While there is no public accounting of how much seized property the NYPD has on hand, the department retained $7 million in seized cash and auction proceeds during its 2015 fiscal year, according to court papers.
In a news release, Niji Jain of The Bronx Defenders said that, before their suit was filed, property seized during an arrest would often fall down a “black hole of red tape.”
“This dysfunctional and unconstitutional practice disproportionately harms the low-income communities that are targeted by broken windows policing and least able to afford these costly consequences,” Jain said. “This long overdue settlement ensures they will no longer face insurmountable obstacles to retrieving what is rightfully theirs.”
Also representing the plaintiffs in the case were Johanna Steinberg and Adam Shoop of The Bronx Defenders and Boies Schiller attorneys Eric Brenner and Nafees Syed.
Assistant Corporation Counsels Sherrill Kurland and Aviva Horowitz appeared for the city in the case. In an email, Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said the city is pleased with the decision.
“The settlement recognizes the significant improvements made by the Bronx DA and the NYPD to ensure accountability, proper vouchering and timely responses to requests for property as required under the existing law,” he said.
Assistant DA Julian Bond O’Connor appeared for the Bronx DA.