Sunday, April 14, 2013

Overzealous Police Still A Threat To Average Americans

In an effort to combat petty theft, police in downtown New York City often leave "bait" items unattended  on subway platforms, on park benches, in cars — and wait to see if someone grabs them.  In the Bronx, authorities began using "bait cars" about six years ago to combat a chronic problem with car thefts and break-ins in working-class neighborhoods.  In most of these cases, police plant property — an iPad, a phone — in plain sight as bait for thieves but make sure the car is locked so that a suspect would have to take the extra step of breaking in before being arrested.

However, a recent court ruling throwing out a larceny case against a Bronx woman has cast a harsh light on such "bait" tactics, that critics say too often sweeps up innocent people.

According to court papers, 40-year-old single mother Deirdre Myers and her daughter Kenya (then a 15-year-old high school student) were sitting on the stoop of their apartment building when a highly unusual police sting unfolded.   The summer evening was interrupted by a bit of theater staged by police.  A dark car raced down the block before stopping, with another vehicle carrying plainclothes officers close behind. When the driver got out and ran, the officers gave chase, yelling, "Stop! Police!"

Myers' daughter, seeing that the driver had left the car door open, went over and peered inside to see some personal items that included what looked like a bundle of cash — in reality, a dollar bill wrapped around pieces of newspaper. The girl called her mother over when suddenly another set of police officers suddenly pulled up in a van and forced the teenager and her mother to the ground.

"Get on the floor? For what?" Myers recalled telling the officers.  The officers took them into custody, even though they never touched anything inside the car.   Charges were eventually dropped against the teenager, but her mother spent more than two years fighting charges of petty larceny and possession of stolen property.

After being cleared of the false charges, Myers (who prior to the incident had no criminal record) sued the city, claiming she and her daughter were traumatized by wrongful arrest.  Judge Linda Poust Lopez agreed, finding that there was no proof Deirdre Myers tried to steal anything — and that she was framed by a sting that took the "bait" tactic way too far.

A spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's office conceded that the bait car had been left open/unlocked and said prosecutors would not appeal the judge's ruling. He declined to comment further.

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