7 On Your Side Investigates: NYPD accused of making arrests in violation of bail reform laws

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A class-action lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court this week accuses the New York City Police Department of violating bail reform rules that limit who police can arrest.

The reforms, which took effect in January 2020, expand the circumstances under which police should issue a desk appearance ticket rather than making an arrest.

According to the lawsuit, those reforms prevent police from arresting individuals facing DUI charges when their blood alcohol content is below 0.08%.

"One pillar of our bail reform legislation is a requirement that police release certain criminal suspects with a Desk Appearance Ticket (a "DAT") rather than detaining them pending an arraignment," the lawsuit reads. "This requirement saves scores of defendants, including first-time offenders, from the nightmare of spending days or even nights locked in precincts or, worse, in notorious jails..."

Both of the named plaintiffs in the case had blood alcohol levels of 0.07% and still faced arrest.

"This practice of false imprisonment violates express statutory law of New York State, and it violated the Due Process rights of its victims," the lawsuit states.

Alexander Klein, head of commercial litigation at Barket, Epstein, Kearon, Aldea & LoTurco, LLP, stressed the seriousness of the allegations.

"You have police officers and an NYPD which is systematically undermining this provision in bail reform, silently assuming that maybe people wouldn't notice or people wouldn't care," he said. "But we care, and our clients care."

Ray Cedeno, a plaintiff in the case, said he was arrested on February 1, 2020, just before entering the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan to head home to New Jersey after having dinner with college friends.

Cedeno said officers explained his taillight was out and then asked to check his blood alcohol level.

The lawsuit indicates Cedeno measured 0.07% blood alcohol content.

Cedeno said police arrested him and held him in detention until his arraignment nearly 24 hours later.

His attorneys argue that Cedeno should have been released with a desk appearance ticket and not arrested.

"Most people, including Mr. Cedeno, aren't aware the law requires them to be released," said Steven Epstein, founding partner at Barket, Epstein, Kearon, Aldea & LoTurco, LLP. "These are people who otherwise wouldn't be incarcerated, and for the charges they are receiving will never face jail time."

Cedeno described sharing a cell with up to 40 people and having to sit on a dirty floor not far from a toilet clogged with feces and urine while waiting for his arraignment.

"I mean that experience was terrible," Cedeno said. "Anyone in that same situation, I wouldn't want that to happen to them."

In an email to 7 On Your Side Investigates, a spokesperson for the NYPD declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The agency has also not responded formally to the lawsuit in court, but in a New York Times Op-Ed published in January, Commissioner Dermot Shea described the bail reform laws that are now the subject of this lawsuit as, "an ill-considered set of criminal justice reforms."

"He is responsible for training the police department on how to do their job," Epstein said.

"They are law enforcers," Klein added. "They are members of law enforcement. That means they should know what the law is and enforce it properly."

Cedeno is scheduled to appear in court on misdemeanor DUI charges in September.

In the meantime, he hopes this lawsuit, which seeks a permanent injunction and damages for the plaintiffs, protects other people from sharing his experience.

"I felt like I was wronged," Cedeno said.

Individuals interested in joining the class action lawsuit can reach out to Barket, Epstein, Kearon, Aldea & LoTurco, LLP.

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