Outside the Yonkers Police Department’s headquarters in Yonkers, New York, police cars are parked. The Yonkers Police Department has been the subject of a Justice Department investigation and reform recommendations since 2007. Hide caption — Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
switch to caption for NPR, Jos A. Alvarado Jr. Outside the Yonkers Police Department’s headquarters in Yonkers, New York, police cars are parked. The Yonkers Police Department has been the subject of a Justice Department investigation and reform recommendations since 2007.
NPR’s Jos A. Alvarado Jr. According to Dana Cardile, she was at her ex-Yonkers, boyfriend’s New York, home in 2012. He phoned the cops because of their argument. It was after 9 o’clock. When a group of police officers arrived, they demanded Cardile provide her driver’s license.
Later, she claimed in a lawsuit that four male officers had violently assaulted her while she was attempting to retrieve her license from her car. She claimed that they had kicked, pushed to the ground, grabbed her by the throat and lifted her to her feet, and repeatedly thrown her against the trunk of her car. Cardile asserted that nothing caused what took place. Her lawsuit claims that after she requested medical attention, the cops transferred her to a holding cell and eventually transported her to a Yonkers hospital. She received treatment there for her hand fracture as well as injuries to her arm and shoulder.
Cardile, who was 37 at the time of the event, claims that the clothing gives people the impression that “we can do what we want, and you sit there and shut up.”
Two years after the event, Cardile filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging that the police had used excessive and unreasonable force. While denying guilt, the city of Yonkers reached a $50,000 settlement with Cardile.
These types of civil lawsuits are frequently the only means by which residents may hold police officers responsible and, for others, the only means by which they can feel some sense of justice.
A little city called Yonkers is located close to New York City. The Yonkers Police Department is not representative of the neighborhood it serves. Yonkers has a 40% Latino population and a 19% Black population. However, the department reports that the roughly 600-person police force is almost exclusively made up of white people.
Records of Yonkers, New York, city payments for incidents of alleged police misconduct that occurred between 2007 and 2020 were obtained by NPR. It was made apparent that the city of Yonkers and the officers named in the complaints denied any wrongdoing when cases involving them were resolved.
A little city called Yonkers is located close to New York City. 40 percent of its residents being Latino, with 19 percent being Black. However, the majority of the 600 police officers are Caucasian. Hide caption — Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
switch to caption for NPR, Jos A. Alvarado Jr. A little city called Yonkers is located close to New York City. 40 percent of its residents being Latino, with 19 percent being Black. However, the majority of the 600 police officers are Caucasian.
NPR’s Jos A. Alvarado Jr. We chose this time frame because the instances that led to compensation happened during the period that the U.S. Department of Justice was looking into the Yonkers Police Department and making reform recommendations.
The city’s reimbursements for suspected misbehavior did not appear to have shown that there were more serious systemic problems within the police force, even with the Justice Department’s increased scrutiny. The number of occurrences that led to payouts varied over time: They peaked at 17 in 2012, fell to a low of two in 2016, and then increased to eight in 2018.
ONE OF OUR FINDINGS IS THAT AT LEAST 102 lawsuits alleging misconduct were filed during the time of the Justice Department’s investigation and supervision, and those claims either reached a settlement or a jury verdict. 95 of the instances were resolved, with the city and the officers claiming any responsibility. Following jury decisions against the city, where the plaintiffs had the opportunity to present their case in court, seven settlements were made. Our evaluation of the court records revealed that the cost to the city of Yonkers was in excess of $5.5 million. The typical award was $55,056. Even in cases of alleged officer assault, some settlements were as little as $1,500. Most of these claimants said that police used excessive force, including beating them with batons or throwing them against cars. Other accusations included false arrest, unlawful search and seizure, infliction of emotional distress, destruction and theft of property, tampering with physical evidence, sexual abuse, postponed medical attention, discrimination based on religion, and falsification of search warrants and other official documents. Family members of those who passed away while being arrested filed lawsuits in two instances. Over the years, several cops were sued repeatedly. In the lawsuits we looked at, at least 10 officers were mentioned somewhere between four and nine times. In incidents involving their alleged misbehavior, the city made settlement payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, the officers frequently got departmental honors, and in two instances, they were promoted. Within the Yonkers Police Department, which is located just outside of New York City, Embedded will take listeners in a new multi-part series produced in collaboration with The Marshall Project. Due to its history of misbehavior, the department has been under federal oversight for more than ten years. A new generation of leaders claims they are repairing Yonkers’ problems and will soon complete the reformation process. What does this actually mean, and how will it alter the situation? You can subscribe to Embedded here and listen to the entire series wherever you get your podcasts.
There is no admission of liability, according to Christina Gilmartin, director of communications for the mayor of Yonkers, who also noted that lawsuits are settled for a variety of reasons.
“After a claim is submitted, usually, she explains, “there is some inquiry. Based on the strength of the claim, the estimation of the damages, and the projected expense of the defense, decisions are made.”
She claims that settlements are funded by general tax funds and are approved by the city council.
On November 2, 2021, Yonkers police report a double killing to Mayor Mike Spano and Police Commissioner John Mueller. Reuters hide caption Mark Vergari/The Journal News/USA Today Network
switch to caption via Reuters
, Mark Vergari/The Journal News/USA Today Network On November 2, 2021, Yonkers police report a double killing to Mayor Mike Spano and Police Commissioner John Mueller.
via Reuters, Mark Vergari/The Journal News/USA Today Network Additionally, the Yonkers Police Department’s public relations officer, Frank DiDomizio, stated that “the Police Department does not have a role in the settlements.”
He said that “we are an agency that averages 160,000 calls for service every year” in a statement to NPR. According to him, only 300 policemen were mentioned in lawsuits over a period of nearly 15 years, which is a miniscule portion “relative to the total contacts with the public,” according to the NPR report.
The phrase “THERE IS NO POLICY OF USING LESS FORCE” According to the Justice Department, there are “serious concerns.”
After two years of research, it presented its conclusions in a 26-page letter to the city. . It said that the Yonkers police lacked a “comprehensive” policy on the use of force and that their training handbook provided scant information on when and how to use force.
The DOJ discovered that the Yonkers Police Department left it up to individual officers to determine what constituted “reasonable” or “justified” force instead of defining these terms or setting legal criteria. For instance, without providing any additional context, its guidebook advised cops to use force on the “proper” parts of the body. The handbook did not categorize actions like using an object to strike someone in the head or placing them in a chokehold as possibly fatal under its guideline on “deadly” use of force. The Yonkers police manual lacked information about how officers might utilize de-escalation strategies in place of force, according to the DOJ, who also criticized the document’s piecemeal approach as being “hazardous.”
The Justice Department declared, “There is no policy, nor even a suggestion, of employing less force.”
It identified the police department’s main areas for improvement and suggested updates to its use-of-force guidelines and reporting procedures.
Karen Edmonson, a Yonkers resident who was a former employee of the Yonkers NAACP at the time, was the one who initiated the Justice Department’s investigation. Residents began contacting her with their accounts of police misbehavior around 2006. A man who said he was assaulted by officers and then assaulted once more in the waiting room of a Yonkers hospital where they sent him for treatment, according to the woman, made the first complaint to her. Edmonson declares, “I’ll never forget the case.” I was really enraged by that.
The Justice Department’s investigation into the Yonkers Police Department was sparked by Karen Edmonson, the former president of the NAACP in Yonkers. Hide caption — Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
switch to caption for NPR, Jos A. Alvarado Jr. The Justice Department’s investigation into the Yonkers Police Department was sparked by Karen Edmonson, the former president of the NAACP in Yonkers.
Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR began informing people that Edmonson was gathering more tales. She set up “town halls” where individuals could come and talk about their interactions with the police in locations like the public library. “It was therapy to me. Coming here to rant, people wanted to be heard. I was also listening “she claims.
A total of 60 allegations of officer misconduct were eventually gathered by Edmonson and sent to the DOJ. She remarked, “My duty was to show the pattern. The DOJ could only enter through that method.
The DOJ’s intervention, according to Edmonson, was intended to help the agency undergo change and make things right. “My goal was for institutional best practices, to make it stop, and to make it a better police department,” she said.
There were some reforms made. However, our investigation revealed that incidences of alleged police abuse persisted despite the complaints Edmonson gathered and the more than 100 settlements made by the city of Yonkers while the Justice Department was providing oversight.
FROM BROKEN BONES TO TEETH MISSING Plaintiffs alleged in court filings from both state and federal courts that they had occasionally been choked, tackled, or assaulted while officers were using racial epithets. Many claimed they were assaulted by police using their weapons or batons. Some reported that while they were face down on the ground, cops kneeled on their necks and backs.
One plaintiff claimed that after placing him in the back of a police vehicle, officers sprayed him with mace, sealed the doors, and prevented him from getting any fresh air. He asserted that after being assaulted once more by cops in the hospital’s parking area, he was taken inside for treatment. In another incident, a guy said that as police were choking and kicking him, another cop arrived on the scene, referred to it as a “party,” and asked the other officers, “How could y’all start without me?”
People stated that they had been hospitalized in 48.5% of the 102 cases that we looked at. In court documents, plaintiffs claimed they had sustained a variety of wounds that required stitching or stapling, including broken and fractured bones, head traumas, internal bleeding, loss of consciousness, eyes that were swollen shut, broken and missing teeth, and wounds that required stitches or staples. Some allegedly experienced persistent discomfort and recurrent procedures.
The majority of the awards in these cases were modest, occasionally reaching as low as $1,500. The greatest was a $1.15 million payout to a lady who had been seriously hurt by a police officer who had attended a call at a nearby pub. She allegedly sustained a broken jaw, extensive facial bruises, and other wounds, according to court documents.
The headquarters of the Yonkers Police. While the Justice Department was conducting its investigation and providing monitoring, incidences of alleged police abuse persisted despite the more than 100 compensation made by the city of Yonkers. Hide caption — Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
switch to caption for NPR, Jos A. Alvarado Jr. The headquarters of the Yonkers Police. While the Justice Department was conducting its investigation and providing monitoring, incidences of alleged police abuse persisted despite the more than 100 compensation made by the city of Yonkers.
NPR’s Jos A. Alvarado Jr. Since this significant compensation in 2017, according to Ray Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for the city of Yonkers, there have not been any occurrences involving the use of force that are “extremely, very disturbing.” But according to our investigation, the city has settled 12 claims involving the alleged excessive use of force for a total of $268,500 since that payment in 2017. In one, a man claims that while he was getting his license out of his car, he was beaten and tasered. He claimed that a Yonkers hospital had to treat him for face fractures. The city of Yonkers resolved his case for $50,000 without admitting guilt.
After compiling a list of compensation for purported misbehavior, NPR noticed that some officers’ names kept cropping up. Six police were implicated in six or more complaints, while ten officers were mentioned in four or more resolved cases for incidents that allegedly occurred since 2007.
Since many cops were nameless in the court documents we analyzed, there might be even more instances of this type. More than 300 of the officers could be counted on our hands. Numerous others merely showed up as “John Doe.”
One officer, Alex Della Donna, was connected to at least nine settlements for suspected misbehavior that allegedly took place after the DOJ launched its inquiry, according to our findings. For cases he was associated with, the city has made payments totaling $402,500. Even though Della Donna retired at age 45 in late 2021, one case is still in court.
NPR tried multiple times to get in touch with Della Donna via phone, email, and the police union but was unsuccessful.
In one of those cases, the plaintiff, who was 15 at the time, claimed in her court complaint that she had been stopped by police for operating a stolen car. She claims that cops forced open the driver’s side door, brandished a firearm at her, and pulled her out. She alleges that she fell face first. She claims that she was badly beaten by Della Donna and four other male cops, that she fractured her nose, lost many teeth, and needed hospitalization. She claims in her lawsuit that after hearing police laughing at her missing teeth, she passed out. She was compensated $33,000.
In a court complaint, a different woman claimed that Della Donna forced her to have sex with him at least seven times while he was on duty and offered to get her drug charges reduced in exchange. She expressed concern that the charges could result in her being deported and losing her children in the court complaint. She says she developed suicidal thoughts. She was awarded a settlement of $20,000.
A disciplinary hearing for Della Donna was scheduled for 11 months after the alleged sexual assault was brought to court. “His sexual involvement with a criminal defendant displayed a… lack of professionalism that reflected negatively upon the department,” his superiors concluded. They ordered him to undergo an ethics training course and cancelled his 30-day paid leave.
Officers who participated in frequent payouts were typically not reprimanded and when they were, the consequences were not severe.
Officer Alex Della Donna of
was stationed at the Third Precinct. For the cases in which he was engaged, the city has paid out $402,500, and one is currently in court. At the age of 45, Della Donna decided to retire in late 2021. Hide caption — Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
switch to caption Officer Alex Della Donna worked out of the Third Precinct. Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
. For the cases in which he was engaged, the city has paid out $402,500, and one is currently in court. At the age of 45, Della Donna decided to retire in late 2021.
NPR’s Jos A. Alvarado Jr. Della Donna has already attended disciplinary proceedings. According to department disciplinary records, Della Donna allegedly pushed down a man who was being held in the local jail in a different incident. Despite the fact that the man offered no resistance, the records state that he put his knee to the victim’s neck. Four days of paid leave were revoked by Della Donna’s superiors.
Della Donna got 14 departmental prizes notwithstanding that disciplinary process and several subsequent lawsuits alleging misconduct. Over the course of his nearly 15 years with the Yonkers Police Department, he garnered 59 accolades in all.
This fit into another pattern we found: the Yonkers Police Department was rewarding many of the 10 officers while the city of Yonkers was paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars related to complaints against them.
Just three years after the city made the final of four payments in instances in which he was one of the defendants, one officer, for instance, was promoted to sergeant. In three of the four cases, a settlement was reached; in the fourth, a jury verdict was reached. In those cases, the city paid out more than $417,000 in total. The officer got 38 departmental rewards in all from the start of the first lawsuit to the end.
Six cases allege excessive force, and one of the officers involved is now retired. To date, the city has settled those complaints for more than $130,000. The city was unable to produce any disciplinary records for this officer in response to a request. The officer was given eight departmental awards while the city was negotiating the settlements.
In total, seven of the 10 policemen who were mentioned at least four times in litigation where the city earned compensation were recognized by their department.
The awards and any settlements for alleged misbehavior, according to the Yonkers Police Department, are unrelated issues. According to DiDomizio, the public relations officer for the Yonkers Police Department, officers only get departmental awards for specific situations in which they were engaged.
Added him: “When evaluating departmental recognitions, only information related to a specific event is taken into account. Even if an Officer had previously been involved in an incident that led to litigation, this does not prevent them from receiving praise for their outstanding performance in a subsequent incident that merits a reward.”
A few dollars to keep quiet? Victims who received compensation stated they still believe justice wasn’t served. They desired that the police be made accountable.
The Yonkers Police Department has undergone adjustments as a result of the Department of Justice’s oversight and the reforms that former Police Commissioner John Mueller championed.
After police shot a guy brandishing a pistol inside a Yonkers apartment on January 17, 2022, Yonkers Police Commissioner John Mueller addressed the media. One of the officers sustained a concussion, and the suspect was shot in the leg. With injuries that weren’t life-threatening, both were brought to a nearby hospital. hide caption Seth Harrison/The Journal News/USA Today Network
switch to caption Reuters
: Seth Harrison/The Journal News/USA Today Network After police shot a guy brandishing a pistol inside a Yonkers apartment on January 17, 2022, Yonkers Police Commissioner John Mueller addressed the media. One of the officers sustained a concussion, and the suspect was shot in the leg. With injuries that weren’t life-threatening, both were brought to a nearby hospital.
via Reuters, Seth Harrison/The Journal News/USA Today Network It revised its use of force policy in 2017 to include de-escalation procedures and methods. Officers are now required to give verbal warnings when “practicable.” And if a person being arrested stops resisting, it obliges authorities to defuse the situation.
Officers are now required to wear name badges.
While Mueller was in charge, fewer incidents of police use of force were reported, and Yonkers’ crime rate also decreased. In April of this year, Mueller resigned from the police.
However, despite fluctuations throughout the years, complaints that result in settlements continue.
According to the agency and the city of Yonkers, the settlements are intended to make up for wrongs that have been done. According to Andrew Quinn, an attorney for the union that represents Yonkers police officers, settlement amounts are calculated by estimating the amount of income that the injured party and any dependents will have lost while recovering.
According to Rose Weber, a civil rights attorney who has represented several plaintiffs in Yonkers, the payments are significant for certain people. “What sounds like a tiny settlement to you or me, could be a life-changing settlement for many of my clients who are very low-income,” she said. She recalled one plaintiff who, thanks to his compensation, was able to leave the streets and pay rent in an apartment for about a year.
“People who came and shared their experiences wanted certain cops to face criminal charges. Others wished to be heard and to have a feeling of justice “says Edmonson. “The goal is not to make money. The emotional damage won’t be healed by money.” Hide caption — Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR
switch to caption for NPR, Jos A. Alvarado Jr. “People who came and shared their experiences wanted certain cops to face criminal charges. Others wished to be heard and to have a feeling of justice “says Edmonson. “The goal is not to make money. The emotional damage won’t be healed by money.”
The former NAACP activist Edmonson, who hosted the open “town halls” that aided in enlisting the Justice Department in Yonkers, has a different perspective, according to Jos A. Alvarado Jr. for NPR.
“People who came and shared their experiences wanted certain cops to face criminal charges. Others wished to be heard and to experience some feeling of justice “she claims. “The goal is not to make money. The emotional damage won’t be healed by money.”
Cardile, the woman who alleges she was assaulted at her boyfriend’s residence and yanked up by the neck, feels the $50,000 settlement she was awarded was not totally satisfactory.
She admitted, “I didn’t care about the money. “They offered to pay me a few dollars to stop talking? I wanted the officers to be fired or have their pensions taken away.”
Cardile stated that if cops who commit misconduct are not held accountable, “they’re free to do this to anybody else.”
METHODOLOGY: How the data were compiled
It is difficult to find records of settlements with plaintiffs alleging misconduct by police. Through a public records request, we inquired about the instances that the city of Yonkers had resolved. It had to make a list, and 140 cases were found. Ten further examples were located independently. The whole list was then trimmed in the following ways:
Cases where the incident occurred before 2007, when the Justice Department started looking into the Yonkers police, were deleted.
We did not include examples when payments were made prior to the filing of a lawsuit, as we discovered from the city’s legal division.
Cases in which we were unable to find court documents in databases maintained by federal or state courts were not counted.
We made an effort to verify as much information as we could, including the particular accusations made against officers in court documents.
The 140 instances the city claimed to have settled were reduced by that to the 102 cases we looked at in this article.
95 of the 102 lawsuits were settled, meaning the city gave the plaintiff money while denying any wrongdoing. The city and/or the officer were found guilty in seven jury judgments after the plaintiff had the chance to present their case in court.
We tallied the claims made in the court complaints in those situations; the majority of them had several claims. The kind of claims that we reference are drawn from those court documents, either from the alleged legal breach type or, in some cases, from the alleged supporting evidence. We grouped comparable categories in several instances. As an illustration, we consolidated the distinct claims of battery, excessive force, and assault into one category, assault and/or excessive force. In court documents, further allegations are listed that we did not publish.
Will Chase and Katie Daugert helped with research for this article, and Robert Benincasa supplied data analysis.