Matthews v. City of New York (Challenging punitive quota system in 42nd NYPD Precinct)

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 12 CIV 1354 (direct)
This lawsuit challenges the repeated retaliation against a veteran police officer who has disclosed the use of an illegal quota system for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters in the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx.

The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 23, 2012 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, maintains that supervisors in the 42nd precinct have developed a detailed quota system, which includes regular color-coded computer reports used to track compliance with quotas. Officers who fail to meet the quotas are highlighted in red ink on the reports and subject to a wide range of retaliation. Recognizing that the quota system is illegal and abusive, Officer Craig Matthews repeatedly reported it to the precinct’s commanding officers. In retaliation, he has been given punitive assignments, denied overtime and leave, separated from his longtime partner, given poor evaluations, and subjected to constant harassment and threats.

The lawsuit, filed on Officer Matthews’ behalf in Manhattan federal court, asks the court to declare that the NYPD’s retaliatory actions violate the officer’s free speech rights under the First Amendment and the New York Constitution.

The 42nd Precinct’s quota system reflects a wider problem within the NYPD. For years, the Department has been mired in scandals about its use of quotas that lead to unjustified stops and arrests of innocent people. Starting in May 2010, the Village Voice ran a series of articles exposing a quota system in the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn as revealed by audio tapes secretly made by Officer Adrian Schoolcraft. A police officer in Queens recently admitted that the use of enforcement quotas led officers to plant cocaine on innocent people in order to boost arrest numbers.

In August 2010, then-Gov. David Paterson signed legislation that expanded protections for police officers under the state’s anti-quota statute to ban retaliation against officers for not meeting quotas for tickets, summonses, arrests, and stop-and-frisk encounters. Previously, the quota law only covered traffic violations.

Officer Matthews, a 14-year veteran of the NYPD, consistently received positive annual reviews before the retaliation started against him. For example, his 2004 review stated that he “has the highest level of integrity and displays a great sense of morals.” As a result of his principled stand, Officer Matthews has gone from being a respect member of the precinct to being the target of abuse from his supervisors.

In April 2012, the district court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case. Plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Oral argument was held in October 2012.

Kate Doniger, Holly Mowforth, and Jacob Tracer, who are students enrolled in the New York University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, are co-counsel on the case.