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The Cops

The NYPD Messed With the Wrong Cyclist: License Plate Vigilante Beats Case, Vows to Sue Police

Adam White plans on suing the City and the NYPD for false arrest, and the driver for making false claims.

4:46 PM EST on December 1, 2022

Attorney Adam White speaks into a microphone at a podium during a press conference surrounded by people holding signs of obscured license plates.

Attorney Adam White speaks to the crowd at Thursday’s press conference. (Hell Gate)

Adam White, the attorney who is also a cyclist and safe streets advocate, was due in court on Thursday. White was facing criminal charges after he peeled off a piece of plastic that was illegally obscuring a driver's license plate on 4th Avenue, on November 11. The driver called the cops, and the cops arrested White for "criminal mischief." He spent five hours in a jail cell at the 78th Precinct. 

White's arraignment never happened. On Wednesday night, the Brooklyn DA's office indicated that they were dropping the charges against White because of a lack of evidence. The DA's office declined to comment further.

But White said his case isn't going anywhere. He plans on suing the City and the NYPD for false arrest, and hopes to be able to depose the sergeant who ordered his detention. White also wants to sue the driver, who he claimed has connections to the police department.

"I believe he made false allegations: that I damaged property of his. And I did no such thing," White told a group of reporters at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall. "And I believe he has connections with the police department and got me arrested because of those connections. That's my suspicion. I do intend on pursuing that."

Asked if he knew for sure whether the driver was an NYPD officer or a City employee, White said more information would come to light.

"I don't know for sure. We're conducting an investigation right now, but there are indications that he has some connection with the NYPD, and it will come out soon," he said, adding that he had no problem with the rank-and-file officers who responded to the driver's 911 call on November 11. "It's the higher-ups who make these decisions. The commander of the 78th Precinct, he has to be accountable, for better or worse."

Captain Frantz Souffrant, who is the commanding officer of the 78th Precinct, said his officers did nothing wrong, and told members of a community council meeting that White "did break something that was on the vehicle."

Councilmember Shahana Hanif, who represents the district that includes the 78th Precinct, said she spoke to Souffrant and he reiterated his defense.

"I think what they did was wrong," Hanif told Hell Gate. "And the fact that they didn't take the opportunity to look into the driver is a concern to me. Because we know this individual has over 20 traffic violations. And he's getting away with an obstructed license plate."

Hanif said that Souffrant acknowledged that the issue of obstructed license plates was "rampant," but that he lacked the resources to do much about the 311 calls that come in about them, even as he evidently has the resources to respond to a 911 call from a driver about damage to a license plate.

"I hope that what we're doing with Adam White sends a message that the precinct needs to do its due diligence and look into the driver. They should trust when these [311] calls are being made, it's because it keeps us all safe," Hanif said.

The NYPD did not answer our questions about whether the driver is a City employee or has NYPD connections, or whether they would continue to arrest people who fix illegal license plates.

Asked to comment further, White's attorney Gideon Oliver referred to his client's statements.

Drivers who obscure their license plates cheat the MTA out of hundreds of millions of dollars in tolls every year. In 2021, nine traffic fatalities involved drivers with illegal plates, and the driver of one of these "ghost cars" killed a 67-year-old woman and critically injured an 8-year-old boy this past June.

Perhaps the best ways to tackle the systemic issues of traffic violence and driver impunity would be to severely curtail the amount of driving and parking that goes on in New York City, and rapidly and rigorously redesign our streets. Too few of New York's political leaders are eager to go down those paths, so the burden of enforcement will likely fall to the public, much as it does with the City's law that allows New Yorkers to report idling vehicles and collect some of the fine.

Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes is the sponsor of a bill that would create this kind of program for obscured or defaced license plates. And City Councilmember Lincoln Restler is the sponsor of a bill that would allow New Yorkers to report illegally parked vehicles.

"These idiots who think that they're better than everyone else: Stop covering your damn plates. Stop speeding," Gounardes said. "Your ability to get wherever you gotta go in your souped up Mazda, 37 seconds faster than me, when I'm trying to cross the street with my kid in a stroller—your right to travel does not overcome my right to travel the streets safely. So cut it out."

New Yorkers will get another dose of this issue tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. on NY1, when Streetsblog editor-in-chief Gersh Kuntzman will be on to talk about his "criminal mischief" video series. Since White's arrest, Kuntzman has filmed himself committing the same kind of "criminal mischief" on cars with obscured plates across town. There are many of them.

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