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NYPD Chief Wrongfully Accuses a Judge Then Insists That the Lesson Here Is That the NYPD Is Trustworthy: A Play in Three Acts

The lesson? The NYPD should be entrusted with the fate of people's lives without benefit of a trial.

NYPD Chief John Chell.

NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

NYPD officials publicly accused a judge of releasing a "predator back into the community" against their wishes, were later forced to admit that they accused the wrong judge, and finally insisted, without irony, that despite their error, their main point still was valid: New Yorkers should remain behind bars based on the NYPD's word.

ACT ONE began on Tuesday, when NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell, tweeted this:

Another NYPD official, Kaz Daughtry, piled on.

Numerous observers pointed out that the NYPD publicly attacking the judiciary system is at best a boneheaded escalation of timeless "bail reform is killing New York" jawing, and at worst, could inspire someone to commit an act of violence—which is the kind of thing the NYPD is supposed to be preventing. At the least, the post certainly seemed to invert the usual presumption of American civil society that judges apply the law and police confine themselves to enforcing it.

"If he keeps this up, somebody’s going to get hurt, and it might well be a judge," Columbia Law professor Jeffrey Fagan told Gothamist. Despite an error in Chell's initial tweet (the case is being tried in the Bronx, not in Manhattan) the NYPD stood by the sentiments.

Didn't these tweets violate the NYPD's social media policy? And also the state's law about the police publishing mug shots? Or at the very least, didn't it undermine New Yorkers' faith in the criminal justice system? According to the NYPD: Nah.

"We totally support the tweet that Chief Chell put out," NYPD spokesperson Tarik Sheppard told Gothamist. "And it's not the last judge we're going to look at. I would ask the judge, 'Why do you let these people out?'"

A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams, Charles Lutvak, also saw nothing wrong: "When misinformation festers on social media, the NYPD is countering it with facts."

ACT TWO: It turns out, the NYPD's facts were bad.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for the state court system, Al Baker, (who used to be a spokesperson for the NYPD, and before that, the police bureau chief for the New York Times) told the Associated Press that Chell had gotten the wrong judge.

"The recent social media posts from NYPD officials criticizing a recent bail decision not only indicated that the crime allegedly took place in the wrong county, it also named a judge that did not preside over the case," Baker said.

CUNY law school director Steve Zeidman laid the blow in the AP story: "While the NYPD apparently believes it should have the right to post opinions and reactions to judicial decisions, the danger, on full display by this ineptitude, makes the case why that is a very bad, and dangerous, idea."

On Friday morning, Mayor Adams said…this:

"The goal is not to call out a judge for doing his job,” he told 1010WINS, though that was police officials' stated goal.

“You feel sometimes that the other arms of the criminal justice system [are] not hearing that everyday New Yorkers are the victims of these crimes," he said. "So could they have done it better? One can say yea or nay, but I know they're dedicated to keeping the city safe like I’m dedicated to doing it."

All eyes were on the NYPD. Would they delete the tweet? Express remorse?

ACT THREE: On Friday afternoon, at 4 p.m., Chief Chell blamed the state court system for his erroneous tweet, but said that his point still stood: The NYPD should be entrusted with the fate of people's lives without benefit of a trial.

Have a nice weekend.

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