NYPD Review Board Prosecutes First Stop-and-Frisk Case
PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A Brooklyn officer accused of falsely arresting a real estate broker puffing on a cigar is the first member of the police department to be prosecuted by an independent NYPD watchdog for a wrongful stop-and-frisk.
The disciplinary trial of Officer Roman Goris, 33, began last week at NYPD headquarters with the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board charging him with abuse of power and with questioning, stopping and frisking the broker without sufficient legal authority.
Goris is accused of stopping real estate broker Yahnick Martin in Prospect Heights on Dec. 23, 2011, as he smoked a stogie outside his van while waiting for his wife to deliver a Christmas present to a friend.
Goris was one of three officers in a police van who had gotten out of their ride about 10:30 p.m. after smelling marijuana near the corner of St. Johns Place and Washington Avenue.
After the officers questioned two women inside a double-parked car about the smell, Goris spotted Martin and his lit cigar across the street.
When questioned, Martin denied having any pot and blew smoke from the cigar to prove it. CCRB investigators found that Goris then ordered Martin to raise his hands, and dug into his pockets. Goris pulled out a lighter and Martin’s wallet, handed them back and began walking away.
Martin, who has filed a civil lawsuit against Goris and the city in Brooklyn Federal Court, claims he then reiterated to the officer that he had no right to search his pockets. Goris turned and smirked, prompting Martin to ask jokingly, “Where’s the hundred dollars that was in my pocket?”
“I make too much money to take a hundred dollars out of your pocket,” Goris allegedly responded.
Martin, at the urging of witnesses, then asked for Goris’s name and badge number.
Another officer told Martin he was going to jail for making the accusation, according to the lawsuit. Martin says in the lawsuit that he was just joking, but the other officer responded, “You want to be a smart ass and make accusations, you go to jail."
Martin was arrested, taken to the 77th Precinct station house and issued two disorderly conduct summonses. Meanwhile, his van, filled with Christmas presents for a trip to South Carolina, was left unattended with the engine running. The car was stolen before Martin’s wife returned to the car, according to the lawsuit.
Martin accused the officers of purposely leaving the car running to teach him a lesson. When he asked about his car while being hauled away, an officer responded, “That’s too bad, you should have thought of that before being a smart ass.”
The Civilian Complaint Review Board — whose mandate is to investigate allegations of police misconduct involving excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy and offensive language — verified that Goris abused his power and conducted an unwarranted stop-and-frisk.
Until recently the CCRB could only pass along those findings and disciplinary recommendations to the NYPD, which would then conduct its own administrative trial.
But under an agreement reached between the police department and the CCRB in April, now when the watchdog agency substantiates allegations and recommends serious discipline, it prosecutes the administrative trial itself.
An administrative law judge presides over the trial and issues a decision and disciplinary action. However, the NYPD commissioner has final say on what punishment to mete out.
Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York City Civil Liberties Union, said the CCRB's prosecutorial role will add a new layer of impartiality to the proceedings.
"When it comes to prosecuting police officers accused of mistreating civilians, it is essential that those cases be handled by someone independent of the police department," said Dunn, whose organization has legally challenged the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy.
"This improves the quality of the prosecutions and should bolster public confidence in the fairness of the process. For these reasons, we have supported the shift to the CCRB handling these police-misconduct cases."
Stop-and-frisk has been a hot-button topic during the past year, looming largely over the mayoral race.
When Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced Bill Bratton as his choice for NYPD commissioner last week, he vowed to change stop-and-frisk policing.
The tactic has also been the subject of high-profile lawsuits. In August, Manhattan Federal Judge Shira Schiendlin rebuked the NYPD over the tactic, claiming the department used it to racially profile New Yorkers. She ordered a litany of remedies, including a federal monitor for the NYPD.
Goris’ trial began Dec. 4 with testimony from Martin. The next hearing date is Jan. 17.
Martin declined to comment. The two summonses issued to him were eventually dismissed.
Goris' lawyers also declined to comment.
The officer's case is the second to be prosecuted by the CCRB. The first case, which began in November, involves a Queens officer accused of being discourteous to three Catholic high school seniors while searching for assault suspects.
CCRB investigators found that officer Newton Hun stopped the students and cursed at them when one questioned why he wanted to look at their knuckles.
Overall, the CCRB’s prosecution unit is working on 129 cases, with 22 more trials on the calendar from now until March. About 52 percent of the 129 cases involve stop-and-frisk charges.