How $1.2 billion in NYPD civil litigation case settlements and monetary awards went unreported

An investigation of public records shows the Law Department’s mandated reporting has not provided full transparency.

One Police Plaza

One Police Plaza Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Stringer

When 20-year-old Ronald Herrera was killed in 2012 by a police cruiser driven by New York City police officer Sabrina Alicea, his family sued and settled in 2017.  The public, however, never learned of the disposition despite extensive media coverage after a contradictory video surfaced disproving Alicea’s official statements.  

According to the Herrera family’s attorney Philip Newman, his clients were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The $750,000 settlement to Herreira’s family and $3.5 million payout to his friend, Leonel Cueves, who was maimed in the same incident, was never mentioned in the Law Department’s statutory reporting of litigation outcomes. 

A years-long investigation of public records obtained under Freedom of Information laws by City & State found that the lawsuit and 12,748 other cases filed against the New York Police Department that were settled or awarded monetary verdicts from January 2013 through December 2023 were never mentioned in litigation outcome summaries required bi-annually from the Law Department under legislation passed into law by the City Council. The same analysis found that settlements and awards that took more than five years, from filing to conclusion, were not reported. Nor have settlements been shared stemming from court actions filed prior to January 1, 2013.  The Law Department also omitted cases that were closed within five years, but whose plaintiffs may still have had pending Surrogate's Court proceedings pegged to them. The department also left out cases settled under non-disclosure agreements.   

The omissions were discovered in a comparison of the Law Department’s reporting  and data obtained under the Freedom of Information Law, as well as court records that found 56% of NYPD litigation settlements and judgements from January 2013 through December of 2023, or $1,217,705,590 was not reported by the Law Department out of $2,157,732,358  in total payouts over the past decade.  The Law Department has been keeping records of civil litigation outcomes against the NYPD since 1969 and according to FOIL analysis, of the $3.2 billion paid out by the city to resolve these litigations, $2.2 billion, or 69%, is from the past decade.

The Law Department’s director of public Affairs, Nicholas Paolucci, when asked about the omissions, defended the disclosure in the reporting, saying that it was “in compliance with the guidelines of the local law.” The department did not respond to additional requests for comment. 

But even if the laws are interpreted in the narrow scope the Law Department has framed them, still unexplained are 6,925 omitted lawsuits tallying $654 million settled within five years of filing.  These include high profile cases, including Natalie Ferber’s $8.1 million settlement in 2018 after the car she was riding in was struck by an NYPD van in an accident that left her permanently disabled and with brain damage. Ferber signed a nondisclosure agreement as part of the settlement that the Law Department never reported.  Another high profile case, a $3 million dollar settlement with the widow of motorist Michael Murphy, who died after a road rage incident with two off-duty police officers in 2017, also went unreported. 

“At a time when schools, libraries and other vital services are being repeatedly defunded, it is especially outrageous that police misconduct has cost our city over a billion dollars that we didn’t even know about,” Council Member Tiffany Caban said in response to the analysis. “This jaw-dropping figure is all the more horrifying because of what it shows about how relentlessly New Yorkers have been mistreated by the NYPD. Lastly, it is troubling that we didn’t know about it until now, and I’m eager for the Law Department to address this discrepancy."

The lack of transparency and perceived lack of accountability were no surprise to Jennvine Wong, supervising attorney at  the Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project, which publishes a database of known payouts springing from NYPD civil litigation settlements and awards. “Police misconduct cannot continue to be shrouded in secrecy and kept from the general public,” Wong said. “The mounting costs of police conduct in lawsuit settlement payouts continue to grow unabated.”

Former Law Department Chief of Staff Thomas Giovanni previously showed the department’s willingness to be transparent. In testimony when the reporting bill was introduced by the City Council in 2017, Giovanni said that “the Law Department agrees with the Council that civil suits and individual employees are an important source of information that may reveal patterns of misconduct or operational deficiencies.” Giovanni continued, “Like a canary in the coal mine the Law Department is in a unique position to provide a report on such trends. This is information that can contribute to a safer environment … Moreover, we share the Council’s goal of enhancing transparency so that the public can follow the trends.”

When the incomplete reporting was partially identified in 2019 by the New York Post, a Law Department spokesperson explained “the 2017 law creating that database exempted settlements from cases more than five years old.”  Last year the City Council passed legislation to close the loophole in the reporting mandates that goes into effect in 2025.

The City Comptroller’s reporting on settlements and awards also has been higher than what has been reported by the Law Department. But the discrepancy had been attributable to the comptroller’s ability to settle cases prior to filing.  A spokesperson for the Comptroller’s Office did note that “settlement payouts can take time to process and may not align between fiscal year, which the Comptroller uses, and calendar year, which the Law Department uses.” 

The NYPD declined to comment. NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Litigation Michael Gerber said in a budget hearing last May that lawsuit payouts were down “50% drop in claims.” “Those numbers have fallen again and again, year after year,” he continued, adding “that is the key measure.” 

A former Law Department attorney, who declined to be named in this story, offered an opinion for the reporting curation: “It is hard to imagine that such a gross level of underreporting, over a period of several years, is at all coincidental.”


Editor’s note: Kelly Grace Price is a freelance journalist and the founder of CloseRosies.org, an organization devoted to closing the Rose M. Singer Center, the all-female jail on Rikers Island. Price also has a pending lawsuit against the NYPD for false arrest, unlawful detention and malicious prosecution in 2011.

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