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Detective Probing Pedro Hernandez Case Terrorizing South Bronx, Suits Say

By Kate Pastor | August 7, 2017 4:52pm
 Det. David Terrell has been accused of excessive force and civil rights violations in 11 active lawsuits.
Det. David Terrell has been accused of excessive force and civil rights violations in 11 active lawsuits.
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Courtesy of John Scola

THE BRONX — South Bronx residents claim that an NYPD detective with a history of excessive force complaints has used his shield to bully neighborhood residents by making false arrests, manufacturing evidence, threatening violence and sexually harassing women.

Det. David Terrell, who has been named in complaints about use of excessive force dating back to at least 2005, is currently a defendant in at least 11 open lawsuits in state and federal courts, many of which will affect ongoing criminal cases

Most prominently, Terrell was involved in the case of Pedro Hernandez, a teenager who was accused of robbery and supplying a gun involved in a shooting. His case has become a cause célèbre for many justice-system reformers who believe he's being railroaded by an overly aggressive system.

Some of the most egregious accusations against Terrell involve physical abuse and punishing the son of a young mother who rebuffed his sexual advances.

Defenders of Terrell — who his union confirmed has been placed on modified duty and had his gun and badge taken away for reasons the NYPD refused to reveal — said he's being punished for tough and effective police work.

"The more active you are, the more complaints you collect along the way," Detectives Endowment Association president Michael Palladino said.

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.

In two of the suits against Terrell, South Bronx mother Elizabeth Rosado claims the detective made sexual advances toward her and began targeting her sons for arrest when she refused. 

One of Rosado’s sons, Angelo Cotto, said in court papers that he was falsely arrested several times starting when he was 13, with many of the arrests coming after his mother declined Terrell's overtures.

The detective repeatedly told Rosado she was “sexy” and at one point beckoned her to the 42nd Precinct stationhouse, saying "I want to show you something," according to civil suits filed by the mother on behalf of both of her sons.

When she would not comply without further explanation from Terrell, he became "irate" and said he wanted to show her his genitals, the suit says.

"Listen Elizabeth, I know where you live," Terrell warned her, saying he would protect her son if she played along, but she refused, according to the complaint.

Cotto claims he was arguing with his girlfriend, who was shouting at him from a third-floor window, in April 2016 when a group of officers including Terrell handcuffed him and assaulted him while he was in the back of an NYPD squad car, eventually knocking him unconscious.

Terrell continued to abuse Cotto back at the 42nd Precinct stationhouse, demanding to know who had guns in the neighborhood, smacking the teen on the head and shoving him into a cell when he didn’t provide the answer the detective wanted, the suit says.

Videos of the initial part of the encounter obtained by DNAinfo show officers using force with Cotto while he is handcuffed in the back of a police car. In one clip, Cotto shouts, "He's choking me!" In another, an officer is seen shoving his elbow into Cotto's face. It's unclear whether Terrell was the officer responsible. 

Rosado's younger son, who is identified only by his initials in court papers, also claims Terrell began a pattern of harassment against him in 2014, when he was 14, and that the abuse was similarly related to his mother's indifference to the detective. The son claims he was falsely arrested several times, according to a suit brought by his mother in Bronx Supreme Court on July 28.

In the case of Hernandez — whose situation is being compared to that of former Rikers inmate Kalief Browder’s — the 18-year-old says Terrell tried to strong-arm two Bronx shooting victims into implicating Hernandez in their cases, according to the teen's lawyer, John Scola, who is representing the plaintiffs in many of the cases against Terrell.

Hernandez was booked on July 14, 2015, on charges that included attempted murder, though the victim in that shooting has said Terrell threatened him with violence if he did not identify Hernandez as the shooter.

The charges against Hernandez were dismissed after it was proven that he was at home when the shooting took place, but he was re-arrested the next day.

Shawn Nardoni, the victim of the shooting for which Hernandez is currently being tried, claimed that Terrell threatened to "kick his head through the wall" if he did not identify the person who shot him, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in April 2017. Nardoni was charged with disorderly conduct after he was unable to give police the name of his assailant, according to the suit.

In a video obtained by DNAinfo, Nardoni says that "Terrell brung me in his room for questioning” for about three hours “trying to make me tell on some, some light-skinned kid," but that "I did not recognize the kid from nowhere."

Most recently, a Bronx man claimed in a lawsuit filed on July 31 that Terrell agreed to let him him go after he was picked up for a noise violation if the detective won a game of dice, in an incident that was captured on video and widely circulated.

However, when Terrell lost the game, he kept the man, Kenney Shenery, in custody, interrogating him for information about Hernandez and who was running guns in the neighborhood, as well as threatening Shenery with jail time unless he gave up the information, the suit says. Shenery was issued a summons for unreasonable noise, according to the suit, which theorizes that the real reason for the arrest was to facilitate an interrogation.

In several of the other lawsuits filed against Terrell, plaintiffs claim that the detective beat them, set them up, and falsely and repeatedly arrested them. Some were filed by lawyers other than Scola, while a handful of older cases were dismissed with prejudice, but many have cost the city money to settle.

In 2010, the city paid $45,000 to a Staten Island high school girl who claimed Terrell repeatedly punched in the face for talking back to him at a Bronx youth detention center, according to court records.

The Bronx District Attorney’s office said its Public Integrity Bureau is looking into allegations concerning both Terrell and the 42nd Precinct.

District Attorney Darcel Clark said that she is willing to speak with any witnesses in relation to the shooting Hernandez is being charged with, but maintained that "I am ready for trial on this case."

James Moschella, the lawyer for Detectives Endowment Association, said the suits against Terrell represent “a concerted effort by some attorneys and a certain investigator” to incriminate the detective.

“There really is no merit to the claims being brought in those lawsuits,” he said.“If they throw enough mud against the wall, then common logic says, well, it must be true."

Manuel Gomez, a former NYPD officer-turned-private-detective, has worked with Scola on many cases involving Terrell, helping round up witnesses and conducting interviews with some of the parties involved, including Nardoni.

But Terrell's union claims Gomez has a grudge against the NYPD stemming from his firing in 2011 — a dismissal the former officer says came in retaliation for a discrimination suit that he and other Hispanic officers brought against the NYPD.

"He's got an ax to grind with the NYPD because of a very sketchy, questionable career," Paladino said. "If credibility is of importance, I don’t think Manny Gomez possesses that."

Nicholas Paolucci, director of public affairs and press secretary for the New York City Law Department, declined to discuss the pending cases.