February 2, 2015 4:00 pm

Mayor: Machete Deal Was Financially Wise But Morally Bankrupt


The guy waving the machete didn’t manage to cut a cop, but the city cut him a $5,000 check to settle a $3-million suit he filed against the city.

To Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, that was the unkindest cut of all.

Mayor: Wrong Policy

“I think it was wrong,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters. “And I think it’s not the kind of policy we will do anymore. We are going to change the policy.”

He was referring to an unstated but decades-old policy of the city Department of Law that encourages settlements of suits—even nuisance suits—to keep down legal costs. A quick settlement means the city doesn’t have to spend its resources fighting a case. And as many lawyers are fond of saying, once a case gets before a jury, you can’t predict what will happen.

Ruhim Ullah, 24, had threatened the officers with an 18-inch machete in 2010 and was shot in the leg by one of them. He pleaded guilty to menacing police officers.

Mr. Ullah’s lawyer, Scott Cerbin, admitted the shooting may have been justified. But he had argued in court papers that Mr. Ullah dropped the machete before he was shot. The settlement was first reported by the New York Post.

‘Had Mental-Health Issues’

“I opted to withdraw the case or settle for nuisance value because I couldn’t prove the case,” Mr. Cerbin told Newsday. “My client had 

mental-health issues. It was really a business decision for me and the city [to settle].”

“We should stand and fight in these lawsuits,” Mr. de Blasio said. “These are frivolous lawsuits. They’re just an attempt to scam the city for money. They’re not fair to the officers involved. These officers didn’t do anything wrong. The city didn’t do anything wrong. And it’s some ambulance-chasing lawyers trying to make a lot of money.”

The Mayor said he had talked to Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter about cutting back on settlements. “This has gotten crazy, the frivolous lawsuits have gotten out of hand,” he said. “We’d rather stand and fight, even if it costs more money in the short term. In the long term, if it ends the frivolous lawsuits because we beat them time and time again...What happened in this case was wrong and it’s not going to happen again.”

PBA: Bad for Officers

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association spokesman Al O’Leary blasted the payout. “This is one of the many frivolous lawsuits that the city prefers to settle because it’s cheaper than defending it in court,” he said. “It’s bad for our officers, who often don’t even know that there is a lawsuit.”

“It is outrageous,” Mr. Bratton told reporters. “Our cops work very hard trying to keep this city safe, and if they are not going to be backed up by our city law office, we need to do something about that.”

The Department of Law initially said that the settlement was “in the city’s best interests.” A spokesman said Jan. 30 that he had no update since Mr. de Blasio talked to Mr. Carter.