Promotions, Not Punishments, for Officers Accused of Lying

For years, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a New York City agency that investigates abusive police behavior, has documented every instance it believes it has caught an officer lying. The cases rarely present much of a mystery: Often they involve officers who deny throwing a punch or who downplay the force used during an arrest — only to have their accounts undermined by video recordings.

But the civilian board has no power to mete out discipline in such cases; it refers them to the Police Department for further investigation and possible action.

In case after case, the Police Department reaches the same finding: There is not enough evidence to determine whether the police officer made a false statement, The New York Times found.

The board has been notified of only two cases — out of the 81 it has been able to track since 2010 — in which the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau upheld the board’s accusation that the officer had made a false statement. In the other 79 cases, the Police Department found no wrongdoing or found the officer guilty of lesser misconduct, such as failing to properly fill out a memo book, according to information provided by the board and a document obtained by The Times.

The department isn’t required to tell the board if it takes action. So while the board has been able to learn the outcome of the 81 cases, there are dozens of other false-statement cases whose results the board does not know.

“There didn’t appear to be any disciplinary consequences for cases where it seemed black and white that the officer was not telling the truth,” said Richard Emery, who was the civilian board’s chairman from 2014 to 2016.

The Times has examined how lying remains a persistent problem within the Police Department, which, with its 36,650 officers, is by far the nation’s largest municipal force. A monthslong investigation uncovered a number of cases in recent years in which officers had clearly not told the truth about arrests they had made — a phenomenon with a storied nickname, testilying, that is still tossed around.

But the department’s reluctance to investigate and discipline officers for lying — as shown by the information collected by the civilian review board — appears to be as much of a problem as the initial lies. One reason officers lie, it would seem, is that they can get away with it.

Looking at the cases brought by the review board is only one way to gauge how the Police Department responds to accusations of lying within its ranks. Another way is to review criminal cases that were dismissed after a judge concluded that a police officer’s testimony was not credible.

It is impossible to tally the number of such cases because they are often sealed by the court. But in several cases reviewed by The Times, it was apparent that many officers whose testimony came under suspicion experienced little negative impact to their careers; in fact, a number were subsequently promoted.

One plainclothes officer, Konrad Zakiewicz, was accused by two federal judges of testifying falsely in gun cases in 2013. His career survived. Last year, he was promoted to detective.

So was Nector Martinez, a Bronx police officer who in October 2017 testified falsely against a woman in a gun case, nearly sending her to prison on the basis of a story that appears to be made up. In November he received his gold detective shield.

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