NYPD Accused of Enticing Bogus Crime

     BROOKLYN (CN) – Fresh off a trial for racial profiling, the NYPD faces another class action accusing it of giving people “an unfair enticement to commit crime” by leaving valuables in public places and arresting people who pick them up.
     Lead plaintiff Spiridon Argyros sued New York City, Police Officer Daniel Fody, and other unidentified members of the NYPD, in Federal Court.
     He claims the NYPD, through its “Operation Lucky Bag,” treats good Samaritans as criminals, giving people “an unfair enticement to commit crime,” arresting them without proof they had any intent to steal.
     “This is a civil rights class action that challenges the constitutionality of a widespread and ongoing New York City Police Department (‘NYPD’) operation known as ‘Operation Lucky Bag,’ which entraps its victims, presumes their guilt and results in their unlawful arrest and detention,” the complaint states.
     “Operation Lucky Bag is a policy and practice of the NYPD in which police officers intentionally place a bag that contains a valuable item such as a wallet or laptop in a public place, and lay in wait, often out of sight, until someone picks up the bag and/or removes or attempts to remove the valuable. The police then arrest the person, presuming s/he intends to retain the valuable, rather than to return the property to the rightful owner or turn it in to the proper authority. Though the policy and practice is purportedly intended to catch thieves and deter crime, it is overbroad and treats honest individuals acting as good Samaritans as criminals.”
     Argyros says he was arrested on May 29, 2012, in Queens, for picking up a bag the police had left on a sidewalk as bait.
     He claims he took the wallet that was sticking out from the bag’s side pocket and put it in a plastic bag, and intended to find its owner, but undercover police gave him no chance to explain and arrested him without probable cause.
     Four or five NYPD officers, including defendant Fody of the 109th Precinct, handcuffed Argyros, took him to the station, and detained him for about four hours, he says in the complaint.
     A judge dismissed the petit larceny charges against Argyros in August 2012, he says in the complaint.
     Argyros seeks to represent everyone who was arrested and jailed under “Operation Lucky Bag” after May 16, 2010. He estimates the class may be in the hundreds.
     “Operation Lucky Bag is a policy and practice of the NYPD of leaving an unattended bag that contains a valuable item – such as a wallet, cash, cell phone, or credit card – in a public place, and arresting persons who pick up the bag and/or remove or attempt to remove the valuable,” the complaint states.
     “Operation Lucky Bag is overly broad and results in the arrest and detention of persons who intend to return the property to the rightful owner. In operation, the program presumes, without basis, that anyone who picks up the bag and/or removes or attempts to remove its contents intends to steal the valuable item, rather than return it.
     “Upon information and belief, the public locations where the NYPD has left the bags with valuables pursuant to Operation Lucky Bag include subway platforms, department stores, sidewalks, and Central Park.
     “According to The New York Times, in 2007 an earlier version of the program was ‘effectively shut down by prosecutors and judges’ who were concerned that the program was ensnaring good Samaritans in addition to those who intended to commit a crime or misdemeanor.
     “Upon information and belief, the policy and practice resulted in 34 arrests within Central Park alone between March and June 2011. Also, upon information and belief, under a prior iteration of the program, there were at least 220 arrests between February 2006 and November 2007.”
     Argyros claims the program violates state law and the New York City Administrative Code, which give people 10 days to return items worth more than $10 to the rightful owner or turn them in to a police station.
     He claims courts dismissed previous cases, finding the program was inconsistent with state and local laws, and constituted “an unfair enticement to commit crime.”
     What’s more, NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of legal matters S. Andrew Schaffer admitted in a January 2012 memorandum that the operation was illegal and did not establish intent to commit a crime, according to the complaint.
     “A review of existing law shows that this method of conducting Lucky Bag operations is not sufficient to establish that the perpetrator actually had the intent to commit a larceny,” Schaffer wrote in the memorandum, according to the complaint.
     The complaint adds: “Accordingly, the Deputy Commissioner’s memorandum proposed certain changes to the program. For example, the memorandum recommended that the NYPD members arrest people after they observe them ‘remove the valuable portion of the property, such as the cash or credit cards in a wallet, and discard the rest of it.’ It also recommended that the NYPD ‘have a person in civilian clothes approach the person who picks up the property and state that they lost the property. They would then ask the perpetrator if they have seen it.’ It recommends the NYPD can arrest the perpetrator if she or he denies having seen the property.”
     Argyros claims the city and its police department failed to train and supervise employees, showing “deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom NYPD personnel came into contact.”
     He claims NYPD officers arrested him months after the deputy commissioner issued the memorandum.
     And, he says that as a diner manager who often finds items that customers leave behind, he is in danger of being arrested again if the program continues.
     Argyros seeks class certification, an injunction, and compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, negligent hiring, training and supervision, false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault and battery.
     His lead counsel is Norman Siegel with Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans.
     Yakov Dubin, a tourist from Atlanta, sued the city for $1 million last year, after being arrested in Central Park in 2011 for picking up an abandoned purse with $27.
     The New York City Police Department did not return a request for comment.
     A spokesperson for the city Law Department released a statement, “We are awaiting formal service of the complaint.”
     Similar police programs in Albuquerque and other cities also have been challenged in lawsuits.

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