In April 2013, Warren Diggs and his girlfriend filed complaints against several NYPD officers with the Civilian Complaint Review Board — the independent city agency that investigates allegations of officer misconduct.
Cops stopped Diggs months earlier for riding his bike on the sidewalk, wrestled him to the ground in his own driveway and arrested him for marijuana possession and resisting arrest. They arrested his girlfriend, Nafeesah Hines after she had one of her kids take the bike he was riding inside.
The arresting officer alleged she had committed a felony by tampering with evidence.
All criminal charges were ultimately dismissed and the couple’s complaints alleged the officers used excessive force, abused their authority and that one even made false statements to the court.
Such CCRB investigations are conducted in secret, because state law makes police disciplinary records confidential. But WNYC obtained the full investigative file along with interview recordings from records in an unrelated court case. It’s an unprecedented window into the agency, which has been thrust into the spotlight in the wake of the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island and questions about police officer accountability.
The agency gets about 5,000 civilian complaints every year. Such complaints are assigned to investigators — largely young, recent college-graduates with no investigative experience.
Online resumes show the ranks include a Hobby Lobby cashier, an EMT and a postal clerk. They get three weeks of training and then start handling cases under the supervision of more experienced investigators and attorneys.
A board panel ultimately determines if there’s enough evidence to substantiate an allegation.
The CCRB found enough evidence to substantiate at least one misconduct allegation in 14 percent of the cases it fully investigated last year.
Anyone can make a complaint, and there’s no penalty for filing a false one. Some gangs have been known to target officers they don’t like with multiple complaints. Other complaints are simply frivolous.
It can also be hard to substantiate a case when the evidence comes down to a cop’s word against a civilian’s.
Richard Emery became chairman of the CCRB earlier this year. He said the agency has too often "acquiesced" to police misconduct. He says he's reforming the agency by bringing in attorneys earlier, speeding up cases, doing more with the agency's trove of data and trying to make decisions more consistent.
Diggs and Hines’ complaints might have quietly gone away – if not for the fact Hines did what so many people do these days. She used her cellphone to record audio of her encounter with the cops.
Using that tape and hours of interviews, the CCRB investigators exposed numerous inconsistencies, largely involving the testimony of the arresting officer, James Frascatore.
The file shows it was the fifth complaint filed against Frascatore in seven months. That’s more complaints than 90 percent of active officers have received in their entire careers.
The audio recording backs up her allegation that Frascatore never gave his name and shield number when she asked.
In the sworn criminal complaint, Frascatore alleged that he asked her for the bike and she responded, “F--- you. I’m taking the bike inside.” Frascatore told the CCRB investigator about a dramatic tug-of-war over the bike.
None of that is supported by Hines’ recording.
WNYC found it’s not the first time Frascatore’s credibility has been called into question. In 2012, he pulled over Leroy Cline for allegedly driving with a busted taillight. Frascatore asked for Cline’s ID.
“I rolled my window down,” Cline said in an interview with WNYC. “He said, 'License and registration.' I said ‘Officer, what am I being pulled over for?’ He completely ignored me and said ‘License, registration.’ I said, ‘Officer what am I being pulled over for?’”
Cline is accused of attacking the 6-foot-three, 220-pound officer and biting Frascatore’s fist. Cline, of course, has a different story.
“That’s when he opened my car door and gave me three straight shots to my mouth,” he said.
Cline’s criminal case is still pending. He filed a claim with the city — a precursor to a lawsuit.
The Queens County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Frascatore did not return a message left at his stationhouse. His attorney declined to comment because, he says, the matter with the CCRB is still pending.
The CCRB ultimately substantiated the allegation that Frascatore abused his authority by not giving his name and shield, and recommended the NYPD give him a refresher on the rules. The agency referred the issue of the false statements to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
It’s unclear what if any discipline has resulted from the case. The NYPD did not respond to multiple interview requests. The department refused to provide even basic information such as Frascatore’s current rank and assignment.