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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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NYPD

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part V — Filings Complete in Appeal in N.Y. Supreme Court, Appellate Division)

This is the fifth installment of a series documenting an ordinary New Yorker attempting to exercise his Second Amendment rights: Part I (license application), Part II (application rejected), Part III (the lawsuit), Part IV (appeal filed).


Opposition to Corbett Gun License AppealWe’re now at 15 months from the date I — just an ordinary citizen with no criminal record — applied for a license to carry a handgun in New York.  My application was filed in December 2016, denied in April 2017, and the NYPD denied my administrative appeal in May 2017.  My petition to have a lower court review the denial was filed in September 2016 and rubber-stamped by a judge in February 2017 who decided that the NYPD’s denial of the license was “rational” because I didn’t give them a good reason to approve it.

The appellate process in New York is a bit clunky.  This is partially owing to the hodgepodge of trial courts — from local town courts that hear small matters, to city courts that hear more significant matters, to county courts that are the highest trial courts.  It’s perhaps also partially owing to the odd naming system in place in this state: the original petition was filed in the “Supreme Court,” the appellate court I’m in now is called the “Supreme Court, Appellate Division,” and the next and last court it can go to is the “Court of Appeals.”  There’s also the “Supreme Court, Appellate Term,” which is somewhere in between “Supreme Court” and “Supreme Court, Appellate Division,” which was skipped here.  Compare this to California, for example, where there are Superior Courts for the trials, Courts of Appeals for the appeals, and their Supreme Court to appeal an appeal — and that’s it.  It really shouldn’t take an hour of research just to figure out which court will hear your case.

It’s also clunky because they have very strict, archaic rules about how they want their documents.  You can’t electronically file, unlike virtually every other court in the state.  But you also must e-mail them a PDF copy, after you “bookmark” each section and subsection in the file (Have you ever used the bookmark feature in Adobe Acrobat?  I hadn’t either!).  You have to file 8 copies of everything, but you probably can’t just staple the hundreds of pages required per copy.  Oh no, you must bind them, but not with comb-binding like you can find at Kinko’s — they only accept binding with metal fasteners or glue binding.  If your fasteners are visible from the outside, you have to put tape over them, because we wouldn’t want any sharp edges in the judge’s chambers.  Some documents must be double-sided while other documents must be single-sided.  You also must use recycled paper for all your printing, because let’s be environmentally-friendly while failing to allow e-filing and requiring 8 copies.  And finally, don’t even think about attaching exhibits to your brief (if you want to, say, cite a government document or a news article and provide the court with a copy), because that’s simply not allowed.

That aside, let’s take a walk through what the City says about my appeal (the contents of what they were responding to — my original appellate brief — are discussed in the previous post):

NYPD is tasked with the grave responsibility of protecting New York City’s 8.5 million residents and over 50 million annual visitors from senseless gun violence and accidental shootings.

Well that does sound like a very important task, but how many people are killed each year in New York with legally-owned handguns?  They omit that statistic, but I’d bet more people are killed by the NYPD each year than by the 88,000 current license holders in New York.

“But if we increase the number of license holders, then there will be more victims!”  Well, the State of Texas has 1.2 million licensees out of 28 million residents (4.3%) and they study how law-abiding those licensees are each year.  Not surprisingly, Texas license holders in 2016 committed 0.35% of crimes in total and 0.40% of assaults with a deadly weapon despite being 4.3% of the population.

NYPD rationally denied Corbett’s application for an unrestricted permit to carry a concealed handgun. That determination is due considerable deference and should be affirmed.

In what sane world is a police department due “deference” when evaluating their decision to deny a constitutional right to the citizens?  We don’t allow them “deference” when they violate 4th Amendment rights by arresting someone without probable cause — they have to prove that they did, indeed, have probable cause.

NYPD’s requirement that applicants complete a minimally invasive background
questionnaire is part of a presumptively lawful regulatory measure that
does not substantially burden Corbett’s right to bear arms.

The background check asks you to go through your prescription medication history, which I refused to do (no, it’s not limited to “prescriptions that get prescribed to crazy people”).  They ask you to tell them any time you’ve ever lost a job.  They ask you for everywhere you’ve lived so that they can talk to your neighbors.  That’s not “minimally invasive” to me — that’s more like the background check one goes through for a government security clearance (unless you’re Jared Kushner, in which case you can flat-out lie and keep your job).   And for those of you who don’t think it’s a big deal, the NYPD admits they would have denied my application even if I had bent over for the background check because I still don’t have a “good reason” for which I “need” a gun.

Corbett was disqualified from carrying a concealed handgun because he obstructed NYPD’s mandatory background investigation [by refusing to answer the most invasive questions]. … His belief that these questions were constitutionally impermissible reflects an absolutist view of the Second Amendment that is not grounded in the law.

In the NYPD’s view, challenging them on the constitutionality of their questions is “obstruction” and “an absolutist view of the Second Amendment.”  Sorry, NYPD, the citizens do have a right to challenge you in the courts, nor is my view that there should be a procedure for an ordinary citizen to carry a gun “absolutist.”  Keep in mind that I completed an application that contained several dozen pages, came in for an in-person interview, submitted to fingerprinting, and paid over $400 (original app process described here).  “The Second Amendment is my gun license” is absolutist.  Challenging their most invasive 3 questions and their “good reason” requirement is simply asking for reasonable access to my rights.

But the government’s opposition to my appeal was strangely silent on one issue: the continuing corruption within the NYPD Licensing Division which resulted in several arrests of police officers in 2016 and 2017 and the transfer of the commanding officer who denied my application to another unit.  Apparently, the fact that one can buy a “good reason” from the NYPD was not an important enough issue to address.

Here’s hoping that the Court doesn’t ignore the elephant in the room like the City did in their opposition.  From here, the Court may order oral arguments, or it may not.  Either way, it will then rule on the appeal (sometime this year), which will either result in the case being sent back to the lower court to do something differently, or will result in the appeal being dismissed and my next appeal to New York’s highest court.

Corbett v. City of New York – Appellate Brief (.pdf – 7MB)

Corbett v. City of New York – Opposition Brief (.pdf)

Corbett v. City of New York – Reply Brief (Bookmarked) (.pdf)

NYPD Upset That They Will Have Fewer “Get Out of Jail Free” Cards to Give to Family in 2018

Many years ago, I was hanging out with a police officer friend of mine at a bar.  One of her police friends said he was about to drive home, and I asked if he was good to drive.  He chuckled a bit and said, “Of course, what are they going to do, arrest me?”  He then left the bar, far more intoxicated than I would prefer to be behind the wheel, and presumably drove home.

He was right, of course: assuming he didn’t get into an accident thus forcing a report to be made, while you may be shocked by his attitude, you probably know that police officers will not cite or arrest each other for pretty much anything that doesn’t have a complaining civilian witness, and sometimes not even then.  This “professional courtesy” is also often extended to their families by providing the family member business cards with little notes on them.  Having such a card is not a license to kill, but it is probably going to get you out of a minor speeding ticket.

It takes special audacity, however, to be the largest police union in the country and to take this to the next level by printing up plastic credit-card like “get out of jail free” cards, and giving each officer 32 of these cards every year.  It takes even more audacity to complain to the media when the union reduces that number down to 20:

“They are treating active members like shit, and retired members even worse than shit,” griped an NYPD cop who retired on disability. “All the cops I spoke to were . . . very disappointed they couldn’t hand them out as Christmas gifts.”

A few points.

First, it’s clear that these cards are expected to grant special privileges upon the holder, to wit: that they will receive leniency upon being stopped for committing a crime.  Otherwise, they’d make pretty lousy gifts.  “Oh, thanks, Dad, a 2018 edition of a worthless card from your former employer!”  Of course not.

Second, this is corruption.  It’s not major, “let’s get a law passed in exchange for cash” corruption.  But all are entitled to be treated equally under the law, and if some are treated “more equally than others,” we end up with nonsense like NYC’s gun licensing scheme, where for a full century, anyone from literal mobsters to random rich people are entitled to their Second Amendment rights where the people as a whole are not.

NYPD Get Out of Jail Free Card
Yes, seriously.

Third, the reason cops want 32 of these cards is not because they have 32 family members to give them to, but because they are literally selling them on eBay.  For a $50 donation to your local corrupt cop, you too can have a get-out-of-jail-free card.  For a bit more, you can get one signed by an actual cop.

It’s a problem that it’s long time we address, and the first step in fixing that problem is treating this like the corruption that it is.  NYPD rank-and-file cops simply see this as a perk of the job — as “professional courtesy.”  But there’s nothing courteous about it to the general public, who is deprived of the public safety benefit they are paying for when people think they no longer have to follow the law.  Police officers and their family should be setting the example when it comes to lawfulness — not seeking to be above the law.

London Metro Police Caught Spying on E-mails of Journalists and Protestors

jenny_jonesWhile many people have little problem allowing governments vast snooping privileges when investigating “terrorists,” it’s been called out again and again that governments are incapable of showing any such restraint.  Many of the headlines are dominated by the U.S. and our struggles with high-tech abuse from organizations like the NSA, but government assholery isn’t an American-specific problem: last week, London Metro Police were exposed as “hacking” the emails of various journalists and protestors.

We know this information thanks to Jenny Jones, a Green Party representative who exposed the existence of this unit in an article in The Guardian. She became privy to this information thanks to a letter written to her from a whistleblower with inside knowledge about the unit.

The letter she received basically reveals that the police have been illegally accessing the email accounts of individuals for many years.  The letter claims that London police asked the police in India to get the passwords for them, and in turn, Indian police hired various hackers to do it for them. Once these hackers got the passwords, they were sent back to the Indian police, who then sent them to London police. This has been going on for years, and the whistleblower claimed that the unit had no respect for the law and didn’t have any regard for the personal privacy of individuals.

Consider the absurdity of there existing a secret unit in a local police department that has the ability to do such hacking (or sometimes, apparently, outsource the hacking to India).  U.K. law apparently allows such spying only to combat terrorism or a major crime, which probably means it should be taken outside of the hands of municipal cops.  Yet the NYPD here in the U.S. also considers its job to include international terrorism, to the point of having thousands of cops who work in locations other than New York city.

It is still very early in the “investigation,” so it is yet to be seen if exposing the matter will result in change. But, if these allegations prove to be accurate, it will be a serious blow to the reputation of the police force and another reminder that handing over keys to the government is a bad idea, even if they allege they will only use those keys when absolutely necessary — because time and time again, all governments everywhere have shown this to be a fantasy.

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part III — NYPD Sued Over Requirement that License Applications Give “Good Reason”)

nysupremecourt
New York County Supreme Court

Over the last year I’ve documented the process of applying for a license to carry a handgun in New York City.  Part I described the initial application process, requiring an incredible amount of paperwork, money, and time, and the scheduling of an in-person interview.  Part II described the interview, as well as the eventual “NOTICE OF DISAPPROVAL” that ended up at my door, letting me know that there was no problem with my background, but I simply did not give a good enough “reason” for them to allow me to exercise my Second Amendment rights.

For Part III, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve taken up the fight in court with a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the City of New York’s interpretation of state laws that effectively allow the NYPD to deny a license whenever it wants.  I’ve additionally challenged the NYPD’s refusal to fulfill a Freedom of Information Law request, as well as 3 of the most absurd questions on the application form.

Beginning where we left off in Part II, after receiving the rejection letter, I filed an appeal with the NYPD itself, asking them to reconsider the decision of the commanding officer of the licensing division, Deputy Inspector Michael Endall, to deny my license.  I should really say the former commanding officer of the licensing division — about 2 weeks after he signed my rejection letter, he was removed from his post after a federal investigation uncovered that his subordinates were accepting bribes in exchange for approving gun license applications.  At least one officer under D.I. Endall’s command has so far pled guilty to corruption charges, and another will face trial shortly.

Departmental drama aside, as you can guess, I received a reply to my administrative appeal by Director of Licensing Division Thomas M. Prasso telling me to pound sand.  As best I can gather, the division has an officer head and a civilian head, and D.I. Endall was the former while Mr. Prasso was the latter.  This letter sets the clock ticking for a state court challenge, giving me 4 months to file what New York calls an “Article 78 Petition,” so named after the section of the law that allows people to challenge the final decisions of administrative agencies, so long as they do so within 4 months.  (Note that I could file in federal court directly, since my federal constitutional rights are in play, but let’s give the state a chance to correct itself first.)

Corbett v. City of New York IV – Petition & Complaint (.pdf), Case No. 158273/2016

There are 3 separate challenges within this lawsuit:

  1. First and foremost, NY Penal Law § 400.00(2)(f)  specifies that a license should be issued when an applicant shows “proper cause.”  The City of New York (as well as Westchester County, FWIW) interprets this to mean “a good reason that we approve of” rather than “filled out an application and is not disqualified.”  In particular, the city requires that applicants show a greater need than that of the general public (!!), so “I want to defend myself” is not good enough while “I want to defend myself because I regularly carry around bags of diamonds” probably is.  Virtually all of the rest of the state interprets this the other way, granting licenses to individuals who are U.S. Citizens with clean criminal records.  The “proper cause” requirement, as interpreted by New York City, is not only unconstitutional (imagine having to convince the government that you had “proper cause” to speak freely, practice your religion, say “no” to a search without a warrant, etc.), it leads to decisions that are arbitrary at best, and influenced by corruption as we’ve seen above at worst.
  2. Second, I challenged 3 questions in particular.  These three questions ask if you’ve ever been fired from a job, ever used painkillers or sedatives (under a doctor’s orders during/after surgery counts), and if you’ve ever testified under oath anywhere in the country.  Saying “yes” to any of these questions extends the application process, requiring you to explain yourself.  These three questions are highly invasive, not protected by, e.g, HIPAA confidentiality requirements, not evaluated by any professional qualified to do so (there are certainly no doctors in the NYPD Licensing Division qualified to say if your prescription regimen would make you unfit to have a gun), and are generally irrelevant for any purpose other than giving the NYPD an excuse — not a reason — to deny the license applications of good, qualified citizens.
  3. Third, after my application was denied, I sent the NYPD a Freedom of Information Law request (Exhibit C of the petition above), asking for every application for a gun license in a 3 month period with all personally identifying information redacted.  My intent here was to see whether the NYPD was consistent when considering applications or was granting preference to VIPs.  The NYPD said that they would not fulfill my request because doing so would be invasive to privacy and would interfere with law enforcement (Exhibit D of the petition).  How releasing these records could possibly do either of those things is a mystery to me, and therefore I’ve asked the court to review it.

I’m hopeful that this petition may push the NYPD to a more reasonable licensing scheme.  Despite people telling me that the NYPD’s rules are challenged all the time, I wasn’t able to find a challenge to the “proper cause” requirement in this state in the last 5 years, and never has the proper cause requirement been challenged in the context of the state’s ban on open carry + the Supreme Court’s decision that the right to bear arms is applicable to individuals and assertable against the states.  Whether you think we need more or fewer guns in this country, I hope you’ll agree that the licensing scheme should at least be fair, and to that extent support my reform against the NYPD’s “licenses only if we want to give them” scheme.

 


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

NYPD Cops on Reddit: OK to “Get A Few Punches” While Arresting Suspects

cops_think_beating_is_ok_highlighted
NYPD cops share their feelings on getting a couple extra punches on suspects who resist arrest…

Massive discussion forum Reddit‘s subforum for New York City-themed topics, /r/nyc, has a lively and diverse cross-section of New York’s population, with everyone from NYU students, retirees, young professionals, and even police officers.  I find the insight one can gain from seeing all these different points of view to be incredibly educational, and sometimes people are, perhaps, a little more candid than they should be.

 

This morning, one of the top threads on /r/nyc was a NYPD cop caught on camera punching and kneeing a suspect in the back of the head while he was on the ground during an arrest (original link, archive).  A cop on the forum, /u/Fast05GT, was quick to defend the actions of the officers, and while starting with a reasonable-sounding explanation that they were dealing with a suspect accused of violent crime who was resisting arrest, he continued to expose that police officers feel entitled to get a little retaliation, seemingly without knowledge that this is wrong:

“You guys are crazy if you think I’m gonna let some extremely violent felon kick my ass and not get a few punches of my own in.”

Another NYPD officer, /u/Mac8831, quickly clarifies:

“The fact is, punching and kicking this shit head is perfectly fine until he’s in custody.”

A read through the thread is filled with these and other gems (“Those cops did nothing wrong. ‘pain compliance’ is taught in the Police Academy, punching and kicking are 100% proper tactical procedures…”) and makes blatantly apparent that these officers do actually think that their conduct — getting in a few extra hits than is actually necessary to restrain a suspect — is perfectly acceptable.

The problem in the NYPD is not merely a few bad apples, but rather than every apple is exposed to systemic and cultural ideologies that condone tactics that are simply not allowed anywhere in our country, whether it’s stopping-and-frisking black people simply for existing, arresting for contempt-of-cop, or excessive force.  Let’s hope the addition of body cameras coming soon brings this issue to light and helps us stamp it out.


Civil rights advocacy is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against police abuse, TSA assholery, and other civil rights issues? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

 

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part II)

disapproval
Not so fast, Mr. Corbett…

In March I wrote Part I of my journey to see if the rumors are true that it’s impossible for the average citizen to get a license to carry a handgun in New York City.  Part I described the application, $430 filing fee, and then the follow-up where the City asked for more than 2 dozen additional pieces of documentation, all of which I provided but could not seem to get in touch with the NYPD officer assigned to investigate my application.

Well, just a day after posting and sharing on Twitter with a tag to NYPD’s official @NYPDnews account, which spiked traffic to the blog on the order of several thousands of viewers, I suddenly got an e-mail from the licensing officer saying that he noticed we had difficulty reaching each other and scheduling an interview.   I’ll never know if making it public was what did it, but I suspect it may have helped.  (BTW, if you don’t yet follow me on Twitter, add me!)

I met with Officer Barberio, who was a friendly guy and took only a few minutes of my time to tell me that my background was clear but my “reason” for wanting a license probably wouldn’t make it past the higher-ups that would have a look at the application.  You see, New York law requires people who want to exercise their right to bear arms to give a reason.  The reason can be self-defense, but the applicant, apparently, must show a need for self-defense greater than the average citizen.  Gun licenses in New York are issued by county, and many counties apparently are lenient on this requirement, but not those comprising New York city.

Officer Barberio also clarified a few anomalies regarding the paperwork.  He explained that despite the forms available from the NYPD stating that one must have a business reason for applying to carry a handgun, you can ignore that part and state a personal reason.  He explained that the requirement to have your roommate’s consent, if you live with someone else, isn’t a bar to getting a license, but would result in them interviewing your roommate.  And, he explained that reference letters are no longer required, even though his form letter to me weeks prior insisted that they are.

About 3 weeks later, a letter appears from the NYPD.  Its title was “NOTICE OF DISAPPROVAL,” and explained the NYPD’s position regarding the requirement of showing a need.  The letter cited Kachalsky v. Cacace, by which it really meant Kachalsky v. County. of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81 (2d Cir. 2012), wherein the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the provision of New York law that allowed the state to demand a “reason.”

The only problem?  In the meantime, two other circuits of the Court of Appeals have ruled otherwise.   Middle America got its decision in Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012, Posner, J.) and the west coast got it in Peruta v. San Diego, 742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014).  Peruta is pending an en banc (larger set of judges) review that should be (re-)decided any day now.  I shall wait for that decision before I file suit, and in the meantime have filed an administrative appeal with the NYPD.

Stay tuned for Part III this summer… 🙂


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part I)

If you ask a random person living in NYC how hard it is to get a gun license, they will probably tell you that if you want a license to carry a gun, you have to be a cop, work as a security guard, or “know someone” (i.e., be rich and have donated to the right politician or organization).  The thing is, I couldn’t find anyone who didn’t fit into one of those categories who had actually tried, and in light of semi-recent Supreme Court rulings that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right, not limited to “militias,” I figured it was about time to put it to the test.

nycgunlicense
What you need to apply for a NYC gun license — to start!

I gathered all the forms together, went down to “1 Police Plaza” — the NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan, and was promptly told I could not apply because I didn’t have an ID card issued by the New York DMV.  Apparently a Florida driver’s license, a social security card, and a U.S. passport were insufficient to prove who I am, even though all of those are sufficient to get the New York DMV to give me an ID card.

But, no problem.  A New York ID lasting for 8 years turns out to be a $12 investment.  My complete, “accepted” (as in, they were willing to consider it) application is pictured above: 1 three-page application, 1 letter of necessity, 1 letter explaining any checkboxes you may have checked that need explanation (Ever had a speeding ticket?  That needs to be explained!), 1 letter from your roommate approving of your license or an affidavit that you have no roommate (My 2nd Amendment rights are contingent on my roommate’s permission?), 1 affidavit from someone willing to take possession of my guns if I die, 2 photos, 1 New York ID, 1 U.S. passport, 1 social security card, and $429.75.  Oh, and a copy of my business tax return.

Business tax return?  In order to apply to carry a firearm in New York City, you must provide a business reason.  This seems likely to be ruled unconstitutional if challenged today in light of the new Supreme Court rulings, but I happen to run a business for which I have the necessity to get a gun license: I am a civil rights advocate, I need a license to exercise my civil rights, and thanks to your donations over the last 5+ years, I file a business tax return annually.

The application also asks a lot of extremely personal and seemingly irrelevant questions.  Have you ever been fired from a job?  Taken a sedative medication or pain killer (you’re checking yes if you’ve ever had surgery)?  Testified before Congress?  The NYPD wants to know.  If your answer to any of the above is yes, add that to your explanation form next to your speeding ticket explanation.  For all of these questions, I checked no box and explained on the form that I refuse to answer because they are irrelevant.

But, apparently that’s good enough to get the app in processing.  After everything is paid for, fingerprints are taken (included in that $429.75 fee, which, by the way, is non-refundable if you are denied a license, and lasts for only 2 years assuming you do).  A few days later (shockingly promptly), I get a letter from the officer assigned to examine my case:

Corbett Gun License App Reply (.pdf)

The reply is a request for *25* more documents that the NYPD needs to complete my application.  Some of the highlights include:

  • 3 letters of recommendation, notarized and signed by people who know you for at least 5 years but are not family members
  • The original court records for any of those speeding tickets you listed on your application
  • A letter from your doctor describing your mental illness (funny, since I checked “no” on the “is a doctor treating you for a mental illness” box on the app)
  • 6 months of bank withdrawal slips
  • Pictures of your business, inside and out
  • A whole lot of tax records

I’m really good at paperwork, so I compiled everything (or explained why I cannot, or will not, be getting them a particular document).  The letter says that once I do that, I should call Police Officer Thomas Barberio.

So I called.  And I called.  And I called…

callproof

No less than 10 times on 7 different days.  Officer Barberio is, it seems, never around.  So I sent a fax.  No reply.

For Part II of my journey, I head back to 1 Police Plaza to see if we can find Officer Barberio or his supervisor.  Stay tuned.


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

New York Tragedy: The Death of Kalief Browder

I wish I were writing this week about how the TSA misses 95% of weapons when screeners are covertly tested, how they “reassigned” the TSA acting director as a result, or how the TSA hired people on its own terror watch list as screeners. But since apparently no one actually is targeting our skies anymore (as clearly the TSA is not stopping anyone), the TSA is now merely a joke.

What’s not a joke is that a 22-year-old man is dead in New York, a suicide spurred by a systematic violation of his rights by the courts, “New York’s Boldest” (The NYC Department of Corrections), and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. Kalief Browder was arrested when he was just 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. He plead not guilty and asked for a speedy trial, but because of delays by the NYC DA’s office, he was held for 3 years without trial before a judge told the city they had to let him go. A total of 31 court dates were scheduled, most resulting in an adjournment at the DA’s office’s request.

If that’s not bad enough, he experienced significant abuse and neglect on Rikers Island, the notorious NYC jail. Video taped beatings by guards, absurdly long stints in seclusion in solitary confinement, and abuse by his fellow inmates were this man’s life for more than 1,000 days without being convicted of a crime. While there is evidence that he may not have committed the crime in the first place, he likely would have served months — or less — had he merely plead guilty. Traumatized by his experience and struggling to integrate back into society after having those pivotal years taken from him, he took his own life last Saturday.

What does it say about our justice system that asking for a trial can result in spending more time in jail than pleading guilty, even if the result of the trial is a not guilty finding? What kind of judge refuses to release this man on a reasonable bail (or on his own recognizance) once they realize, “Hey! He’s already been in jail longer than we’d keep him if he were tried and convicted?!” What kind of DA postpones a man’s fate dozens of times because he can’t manage to prepare for a simple trial over 36 months? And where did our constitutional right to a speedy trial go??

Amendment VI – “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

I hope there will be protests — I will be there. In the meantime, if you’d like to express your thoughts on the matter: Robert T. Johnson, Bronx District Attorney, 198 East 161st Street, Bronx, NY 10451, ph: 718-590-2312, fax: 718-590-2198, angueirl@bronxda.nyc.gov

Depression, Loss, & The NYPD

This is a partially off-topic post about something very personal to me, but something I feel compelled to share because there are a couple of things that I think we can make better, and I’d like to raise awareness to those issues.  First, the off-topic back story.

About a month before I published my big TSA video in 2012, I met a woman who inspired me to do a lot of things. We dated for almost a year, remaining inseparable even after the dating concluded, and started a music company together that helps me to fulfill perhaps the only part of me that brings about more passion than fighting government abuse. Andrea was an awesome partner to have, whether we were heading to a protest or weaseling our way backstage at a music festival to network with the VIPs. She always encouraged my advocacy, even acting as my process server for my suit against NYPD’s street body scanners.

We accomplished so much together despite the fact that she suffered from serious depression, which, looking back, was getting worse as time passed. Starting from very young, we’re all taught that there is help for people who are depressed. But sadly, help is often times difficult and expensive, and even when you manage to get it, it doesn’t always work. I learned that a good therapist in New York can charge $250 per hour and often doesn’t accept insurance (making weekly treatments $13,000 annually). I learned that prescribing anti-depressants is a lot like rolling a dice and hoping that the pill you takes makes you better rather than worse. I learned that even if you are hospitalized for your depression at the best psychiatric hospital in New York, there is no treatment — they literally just observe you until you feel better (or pretend to, such that you can leave).

Andrea took her own life last month. She was 38 years old.

If you saw her funeral, her Facebook, or the celebration of her life that we held for her, you would have seen that she was incredibly loved by a number of people that was shockingly large, even to me, knowing her as well as I did. Andrea Playing at Cielo NYC But, when you’re depressed, you don’t see that. I know that I didn’t really understand depression before I me her, so let me try to explain depression as I’ve come to understand it, as someone who doesn’t suffer from it directly: Imagine watching a video of the highlights your life that contains all the good things — friendships, laughter, successes — as well as all of the bad things — loss, guilt, stress. You may have a really good life and all that bad stuff may be just a few moments of the video, but when you are depressed, all of the good parts are cut out of the video. The remainder is the bad parts, and it’s stuck playing in your head in a loop. All you see and hear are those times when you didn’t feel loved, when you made a mistake, when someone was mean to you, and a feeling of being truly alone. Your entire existence, in fact, seems to be one giant mistake, and continuing your life can only burden the world with more of your failure. The videos can’t be shut off, and you can’t even remember a time when they weren’t playing. Someone could be talking to you a foot from your face and you literally wouldn’t be able to see or hear them, because your brain is somewhere else. This is how someone like Robin Williams, a man who was loved by so many for his ability to make them feel good, a man who had the resources to do anything he wanted in his life (including obtaining the best doctors that money could buy), could reach a point of desperation to make it all stop — even at the ultimate price — and this is how one of my best friends spent the last few moments of her life.

During the funeral, there were a few people present who were surprisingly upset considering that they didn’t know Andrea all that well, and each of those people ended up telling me that they, too, suffer from depression, and that it could have just as easily been them in that casket. I think it served as a huge wake-up call to them that it’s time to seek treatment now, even though it is difficult and far from certain. I pointed out to them that Andrea could have called anyone in that room when she needed to talk, but didn’t, because no one wants to “share” their depression.

So, the first of the things that I’m hoping we can make better is to remind you (yes, YOU) that if you feel depressed, feel free to call anyone, because more people understand than you might think, and even more people are willing to listen even if they don’t understand. Now is the time to make sure you have a resource to call when you need it, and if you think you’re being a burden on people by calling them, let me assure you that I would give anything to trade this burden of Andrea’s death that I have right now for the burden of talking her through another one of her dark times. It’s also the time to get therapy or medicine if you need it, which I know is hard because finding a therapist you can trust and afford isn’t easy, and taking medicine is scary. But, you probably know if you’re at the point where it’s dangerous for you to continue without assistance, and if you’re there, now’s the time. Two great resource for finding both therapists and psychiatrists are Psychology Today and Zocdoc, both of which let you search by insurance (if you have it) and allow patients to rate their doctors. If you still need help, e-mail me and I will help you personally: jon at professional-troublemaker.com.

The second thing I want to make better is actually relevant to this blog. Andrea lived in Manhattan, and when you report that your girlfriend killed herself, emergency services comes and makes sure you’re ok, tries to comfort you, etc. No, just kidding, of course that’s not what happens… the NYPD comes and holds you as a suspect in her death. Imagine the worst possible moment of your life — losing your closest friend under the worst of circumstances — and then add to that some cops forcing you to go to the precinct and holding you for hours, leaving you in a shitty back room to think about what just happened all by yourself, with no one to talk to. Depriving someone of a shoulder to cry on in such a time has to be one of the most cruel and compassionless acts possible during the worst personal tragedy I’ve yet to encounter. In a city where someone takes their own life every 16 hours, you’d think they’d have worked out a more sensitive way to deal with things.

I’ll be researching further, but my preliminary conclusion is that the police may have had some limited right to hold me briefly under the guise of an “investigative detention” (assuming for a moment that merely reporting a death gives rise to “reasonable suspicion” that you may have caused the death) but case law seems to indicate to me that 1) the duration of the hold, and 2) the forced change of location, violated my rights. Should my further research confirm, I’ll be filing my newest lawsuit within a month or so, as no one else should have to go through what I did and have their tragedy compounded by the police.

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