Mount Vernon has spent soaring amounts of taxpayer dollars in recent years to end legal disputes over damaged property claims, false arrests, police misconduct and other alleged wrongdoing, depriving the city of money that could fund other pressing needs.
Last year, the city paid out more than $2 million dollars in legal settlements and court judgments — a record amount that was more than the city spent on its rodent issues, fixing its streets and sidewalks.
The surging cost of legal payouts has been a drain on the city budget as elected officials struggle to address serious challenges, including a backlog of broken sidewalks and mounting demands to combat homelessness.
“The numbers are too damn high,” said one resident I spoke with. “Look at how much we pay out as a city. And then look at the services we don’t get.” The sharp rise has happened under Mayor Richard Thomas administration.
Some say his office has been soft on settlements and that it’s no surprise that the pattern of disinvestment escalating during the course of the past three years, would give rise to an increase in claims.
Claims against the Mount Vernon Police Department for misconduct led city officials to approve $637,000 in 2017 to settle lawsuits.
Corporation Counsel of the City of Mount Vernon Lawrence Pocari told lohud, ” interest of efficiency and cost-effectiveness” is a deciding factor when settling a case. While they believe in the merits of the city’s respective cases, he said, they elected to settle in some cases for the best interest of the city.
Beyond the mammoth cases, a pileup of other large payouts has padded the tab. Not only the total number of payouts has increased, but over time, the average amount has increased.
Thousands of legal battles involving the Mount Vernon Police Department, including a rash of recent settlements over police misconduct and wrongful arrests have added up to over a one million dollars:
✔ Mount Vernon was ordered to pay two brothers $250,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging they were beaten by police officers using their nightsticks near an erotic club.
✔ Mount Vernon was ordered to pay $175,000 for a police raid lawsuit. Vaughn Scott filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging Mount Vernon Police officers burst into her home on March 20, 2013, and detained Scott and her family members for almost five hours with no explanation and without a warrant.
✔ Mount Vernon Board of Estimate and Contract (who approves the settlements) voted to pay $75,000 to Jose Fonseca to end his police misconduct lawsuit against the city and its police department.
✔ Michael Anderson sued the city back in 2014. Anderson claimed that three Mount Vernon police officers assaulted and falsely arrested him on June 10. He was awarded $22,500.
THE THOMAS ADMINISTRATION AND ITS LAWSUITS:
The surge in settlements is not alone, there also has been a boom in lawsuits tied to the Thomas administration.
Corporation Counsel has been busy litigating up to 40 lawsuits between 2017 -2018
Some of the litigants include a councilman, The Mount Vernon Police Association, a police officer, multiple businesses including Verizon and T-Mobile.
Kela Tennis Inc has a strong six million dollar case against the city for an illegal shutdown and property damage.
Please click the link below and follow the instructions to see all active cases.
City officials have not implemented a plan to clamp down on legal costs in the future. Forming a committee that focuses on risk reduction and protocols for handling allegations of police harassment, additional training for city workers and increased spending to repair streets and other infrastructure, including badly broken sidewalks is a start.
Where is the Risk Manager?
The city needs help analyzing and eliminating problems and reducing the risk of costly litigation.
Paying off steep settlements over time may be necessary, but if that becomes the routine, then you’ve got a real problem, comparing it to “paying for the mortgage on a credit card.”
Some municipalities deduct the cost of payouts/settlements out of the budget for that department that was involved. It’s unclear if Mount Vernon has practiced that, but charging the departments gives them an incentive to fix problems that could put them at risk of costly lawsuits.
But, it would be unfair to penalize departments for problems dating back years or political games, and that cutting funding for police or street repairs would be “shooting yourself in the foot.”
This should be a significant concern that taxpayers in Mount Vernon should know about.
Some critics have called for police to be required to pay these damages themselves, as a deterrent. However, police officers, themselves, are protected by the doctrine qualified immunity, which makes it difficult for a case to get into court. But even if you do, and you win, the officer himself won’t have to pay any damages leaving it on Joe SixPack Taxpayer to foot the bill.
Perhaps the best option is to take money from those cops involved in wrongdoing over a long period of time, then supplement that with public money or be paid from police pension funds. I can see the appeal there, cause it doesn’t seem wise to penalize all cops for the bad ones.
Yes, false reports of police abuse happen, too. All the more reason to move to the use of body cameras.
🔴 Click on link below to view the numerous lawsuits involving Mayor Richard Thomas &/or the City of Mount Vernon:
1)Search as Guest
2)Case Search Name Tab
3)Business/Organization: Type City of Mount Vernon