It is 10 p.m. on a Sunday and Yosef Bergovoy is standing on a sidewalk talking to his friends. In a moment, these three college students became suspects of a criminal misdemeanor.
Four NYPD officers gave them each a summons for "blocking pedestrian traffic", even though a photograph shows a virtually empty sidewalk. They were detained for about an hour and much of the incident was videotaped by a friend.
"During the hour of detainment, we asked we're standing on the sidewalk, we're standing on private property, what's the problem, who are we disturbing?" Bergovoy said.
"I don't think we did anything wrong on any level so I was just surprised about it, even a little bit frightened that one day you could be standing talking to a friend and just randomly you have to go to court. And you can't do anything about it, what can you say? The police are the police," said Yakov Sabol, from Crown Heights.
Their experience brings to mind the long lines that wrap around the courts on any given day in the city. Eyewitness News' investigation last spring showed that half of all the people standing in those lines will have their summons tossed out, many because the NYPD failed to show any evidence of wrong doing, just as it happened to Marie Hibbert.
"It's ridiculous, it needs to stop," said Marie Hibbert, who got a summoning on May 24th.
Whistleblowers from inside the NYPD such as Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, Adil Polanco and other cops have been telling us that the department is obsessed with numbers and quotas. Secret tapes of supervisors during roll call shines a light on this fixation, which officers say, lead to bogus summonses.
"I want a ghost town; I want to hear an echo from one end of the street to the other. You understand, that's what I want in a perfect world. So that's your mission. You guys need collars, you need activity, there you go, they got to be removed," said Adil Polanco.
These young men believe they are the latest victims of NYPD quotas.
"Something's wrong. And it's happening around the city it's growing and it has to be stopped," Bergovoy said.
The NYPD says the three men were making a lot of noise and causing pedestrians to go around them into the street. The department says they were asked to move and when they refused, they were given a summons. The three strongly dispute that.
Rarely are these cases of questionable summonses caught on video tape. What is clear is that the three men being detained here are calm, they are respectful. It is also clear that if any pedestrian traffic is being blocked, it is because of the four officers and their vehicles. While there's a 50-50 chance that their summonses will get tossed out, the officers will still get credit toward their monthly quota.
"It's scary that it's happening so many times that nobody's doing anything about it. If somebody's standing on the street talking to his friend and it's not illegal and the cops are giving summons for it they should be stopped," Sabol said.
If you have a tip about this or any other issue you'd like investigated, please give our tipline a call at 877-TIP-NEWS. You may also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow Jim Hoffer on Twitter at twitter.com/nycinvestigates