MANHATTAN (CN) – A pair of Black Lives Matter protesters who face prosecution by the New York City Police Department, rather than the District Attorney’s Office, failed to delay their criminal trials so that a civil court can consider their objections.
Arminta Jeffryes and Cristina Winsor contend that the NYPD Legal Bureau is an improper prosecutor, but they will not be able to argue the merits of their challenge in Manhattan Supreme Court until after their trials, set to begin on Jan. 30.
Justice Lucy Billings denied the activists relief at a hearing Wednesday afternoon and scheduled their next civil hearing for May 5, explaining that she was “double-booked between now and June.”
“May 5 is good, tomorrow would be better,” quipped attorney Martin Stolar, who represents Jeffryes.
Police issued summons to Jeffryes and Winsor after they participated in a Black Lives Matter protest on March 7. While Jeffreys is accused of crossing the street against a steady “Don’t Walk” sign, Winsor is charged with “walking in the roadway next to a sidewalk that was safe to use.”
Stolar and co-counsel contend that the women’s cases belong in criminal court, but that the NYPD has begun prosecuting cases in-house to shield the department and officers from civil liability.
When charges like those against Jeffryes and Winsor are dismissed in summons court, it paves the way for civil lawsuits and a settlement with the city.
Stolar argued in his November complaint that there is an “inescapable conflict of interest” in allowing the NYPD’s in-house counsel to preside over such trials.
“The legal bureau seeks to act as prosecutor in these and other summons cases, not to represent the interests of the People of the State of New York, but to protect police officers against future civil litigation for false arrest and section 1983 civil rights violations,” the complaint states.
Stolar repeated this argument at Wednesday’s hearing in Manhattan Supreme, referring to the NYPD’s private lawyers as “improper and illegal prosecutors” who are “inherently conflicted,” prioritizing the police department’s pecuniary interests over legal ethics
“Public prosecutors answer to a different drummer,” the attorney exclaimed.
Stolar called the NYPD’s false and illegal arrests of protesters the elephant in the room.
Justice Billings meanwhile repeatedly spoke about the need to prevent the civil proceedings from driving “an end run” around a Sept. 19 ruling in Manhattan Criminal Court where Judge Guy Mitchell rejected a motion by Jeffreys to dismiss on equal-protection grounds.
“It’s not my place to find error in Judge Mitchell’s decision,” Billings told the court Wednesday.
Winsor’s attorney Gideon Oliver failed to sway the court that his client will face irreparable harm that an appeal cannot undo if her criminal trial is allowed to move forward.
Stolar had made a similar argument in a Jan. 24 filing, denying that he and co-counsel are trying to unreasonably delay the criminal proceedings or achieve a litigation advantage.
“Every effort was made to seek [the NYPD’s] consent to adjourn the criminal cases and every effort was made to timely seek adjournments from the Criminal Court judges,” the affirmation states.
The NYPD is represented by Katherine Triffon and Adam Moss.