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Lawsuit: NYPD Knew Arresting Cyclist For ‘Criminal Mischief’ Was Bogus, But They Did It Anyway

The cyclist is suing the City, the NYPD, and the driver for false arrest in federal court.

10:39 AM EDT on September 19, 2023

A license plate on the back of an SUV that is being obscured by a piece of plastic.

Adam White saw this obscured plate in Brooklyn, pulled over to fix it, and promptly found himself in jail. (courtesy Adam White)

At least two of the NYPD officers who arrested a cyclist for peeling off a piece of plastic that was obscuring a license plate appear to have known the charge was bogus, but the cops made the arrest anyway.

Last November, attorney and safe streets advocate Adam White was biking up 4th Avenue in Brooklyn when he spotted a Chevy SUV with a piece of plastic blocking a digit on its license plate. He'd seen the same vehicle with the same obscured plate before, so he decided to pull over and peel it off. Then the owner of the vehicle got out, called the NYPD, and had White arrested for "criminal mischief," a misdemeanor.

According to a lawsuit White filed in federal court on Tuesday, NYPD Officer Palakpreet Kaur, one of the officers who responded, showed the ranking cop at the scene, Sergeant Leighton Barrett, the before and after pictures White took of the obscured plate, and told him that nothing had been "broken," as the driver was claiming.

"So, the piece was already broken," Officer Kaur tells Sergeant Barrett, according to body camera footage cited in the complaint. "He just pulled it off."

Lieutenant Barrett apparently did not care, and took this to mean that Officer Kaur wasn't interested in the collar. "You don't want it?" Barrett asked, according to the lawsuit. After White was arrested, he spent around five hours in police custody. The Brooklyn DA's Office ultimately declined to prosecute the case due to a lack of evidence.

White is suing the City, the NYPD officers, and the driver who called the cops, Sholem Klein, for false arrest and for violating his civil rights. Streetsblog reported earlier this year that Klein heads up the Rockaway Nassau Safety Patrol, a Shomrim group that works with the NYPD's 100 and 101 Precincts in the Rockaways. The complaint notes that Klein called Sergeant Barrett "boss" when he showed up to the scene, in addition to informing the NYPD about his ties to the 101st Precinct.

According to the lawsuit, Klein also told the police that a few months earlier, "he personally saw Mr. White break the border of his plate cover with a plier, scratched his bumper, took pictures of his vehicle, flee on a bicycle, then post on Twitter about the incident." None of this had happened, but according to the lawsuit, the NYPD nor the DA's office did anything about Klein's claims.

"It was the right thing to do that the DA's office declined to prosecute, and they should be applauded for that decision, but there's another problem here that remains unresolved," White's attorney, Gideon Orion Oliver, told Hell Gate. "And that has to do with defendant Klein."

The NYPD said it would review the lawsuit once it was served. The Law Department declined to comment, as did the Brooklyn DA's office. An email and a message left for Klein at the safety patrol he leads have not yet been returned. The license plate on Klein's SUV has racked up a total of 31 violations and more than $2,384 in fines since 2019, according to How's My Driving, with $305 still outstanding. 

Despite Mayor Eric Adams's 2022 pledge to crack down on "ghost cars," and the NYPD's promises to take scofflaws in their own ranks seriously, law enforcement continues to violate traffic and parking laws with impunity. For three months after White's arrest, the editor of Streetsblog documented dozens of police officers and City employees who obscured their license plates and became the subject of stories in the New York Times and the New Yorker; none of those NYPD officers faced any actual discipline (one "hourly consultant" for the Manhattan DA's office who was caught decided to resign rather than face an investigation).

And the officer who commands the cops who arrested White, Captain Frantz Souffrant of the 78th Precinct, has insisted that his officers did nothing wrong, and that White "did break something."

Oliver, White's attorney, said the lawsuit might move things in the other direction.

"One possible response to this lawsuit is that the DA's Office, or the City, or the NYPD, could take another look at what happened, and the misconduct that defendant Klein engaged in, and the officers engaged in, and take some meaningful action in response." 

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