Lawsuit: NYPD skips court and brings people with outstanding arrest warrants straight to Rikers

When the police arrest someone with an arrest warrant, they are required to take that person to court to see a judge. But a new federal lawsuit alleges NYPD agents have illegally transported people to Rikers Island, where they must wait days in harsh prison conditions for their paperwork to be cleared. Attorney MK Kaishian is among those who are suing. She joined WNYC Morning Edition host Michael Hill to discuss the suit. The story was first reported on the Hell Gate news site.

Michael Hill: Good morning and welcome to Morning Edition.

MK Kaishian: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me.

You’re most welcome. Would you mind taking us through this NYPD policy of skipping courts and taking people who find them with pending warrants straight to Rikers? Why should the arrested person first appear in court?

Secure. So when an arrest warrant is issued for the arrest of a person, it means that it is already part of an ongoing case or a case that has been closed but has somehow not been resolved either by mistake or by a problem that arose after the closure. on the House.

What the police should do when they arrest someone is use their name and if there is a warrant that appears to be associated with that person’s name, they are presumed, under New York criminal procedure laws, to take that person directly to court without unnecessary delay. That means you just have to take them directly to court from a court that issued that injunction so that any outstanding cases can be resolved.

This is important because a judge, the court and court staff are in the best position to establish a few things. First, whether that warrant is actually valid. Several people in the lawsuit we brought in had warrants that were actually resolved and there was a bug that kept them running. But that person too is then able to either resolve their case on the spot before that judge or have a future court date set for their appearance to settle the case, meaning there’s no uncertainty about when they’re supposed to be back. to come to court. And what we’re seeing happening instead is the police taking people directly to Rikers Island and other city jails to DOC. brings [Department of Correction] custody, effectively kidnapping them and putting them in jail without a future court date, where they languish indefinitely until someone can sound the alarm about where they are and request the court to release them.

MK, you used the word kidnapping in your file there. How does it get to the kidnapping level?

Kidnapping in New York is when someone unlawfully restricts another person’s movements. It’s a kidnapping. And that’s really what’s happening here. We see that the NYPD and the DOC by failing to act on the people in their custody who do not have these future court dates are really breaking the law of indefinitely detaining people without due process of any kind, without hiring a lawyer. warn or their loved ones about where they are and without following the law. And it’s important to note that conditions at Rikers Island and in other city prisons, as we well know, are really reaching the level of an acute humanitarian crisis.

So these people are brought there illegally and then experience the same completely inhumane conditions that other inmates there experience at Rikers.

Tell us about one or two of your clients, claimants who are subject to this.

Secure. So the first named customer in this case is Paul Phillips. Mr Phillips was detained in New York State and Westchester County on a warrant issued in 1989. So a more than 30-year-old warrant related to Mr Phillips’ name appeared. Now this was clearly a mistake. The police should have understood that from the start. Mr Phillips had subsequently appeared in court. His history would have clearly shown that a 1989 injunction would have been resolved by the court by the time he was last arrested in the same case. Nevertheless, he was taken straight to Rikers Island, where he languished for days. He has medical conditions that he has alerted the police to, as well as DOC that have not been treated. He was allowed to suffer horrendous physical and mental pain until he was released when a judge issued a ticket to him. And most importantly, Mr. Phillips was never, ever brought before a judge. He just had a lawyer on the outside who was able to find out where he was and secure his release. But really before that happened, he endured hell. And the same goes for the next named plaintiff, Khaori Wright. And Mr. Wright entered Rikers Island with a pre-existing injury that caused his jaw to be constricted. But as we know, the food on Rikers Island is inedible even in the best of circumstances. And Mr. Wright couldn’t eat with his mouth shut and DOC couldn’t feed him. And so he was in there for about 17 days and lost about 20 pounds while incarcerated. So the people this happens to are only going through nightmarish and hellish conditions.

MK, give us an idea of ​​how many were sent to Rikers without going to court.

The problem is, Michael, we really don’t know the answer to that question. Part of the problem here is that people disappear into city jails without a trace. There is no evidence that this is happening as they are not being brought before a judge. They will not be given a future court date. They have no lawyer, no lawyer, standing next to them to represent their interests and to know where they are and to know when they will be seen again. Instead, they are taken directly to these prisons and placed in them until someone finds out where they are. So it’s very possible that there are people in there right now that this has happened to, and we need to know if that’s the case.

MK, quick here. What is your goal with this lawsuit?

Our goal is that the NYPD and DOC are never allowed to do this again. This is a completely unacceptable practice.

Now, in certain circumstances, criminal procedure law allows a person to be taken to prison for one working day until a court is open again. However, that exception does not apply in New York City, where courts operate 365 days a year, including at night.

MK, we’ll have to leave it at that. Thank you very much for joining us. The NYPD told WNYC it will not comment on pending lawsuits. MK, thanks again.

Thank you so much for having me.

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