Updated Feb 23, 2016
By MARK TOOR
The presidents of the Sergeants Benevolent Association and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association called last week for Mayor de Blasio to remove the Chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board because his law firm is representing a former CCRB complainant in a lawsuit against the city.
The agency denied that the Chairman, Richard Emery, had done anything wrong. But SBA president Edward D. Mullins filed a complaint with the city Conflicts of Interest Board and ordered union representatives not to allow Sergeants to be questioned in CCRB investigations until the dispute is resolved.
Basis for Complaint
In addition to chairing the CCRB, Mr. Emery is a partner in the law firm of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, which has filed a number of suits against the NYPD over the years.
Mr. Mullins said the firm had taken over the Federal civil-rights case of Sefton Luckey, whose complaint that Sgt. Jared Hospedales had improperly pepper-sprayed him in a deli in 2013 was substantiated by the CCRB. Sergeant Hospedales was found guilty in a departmental trial last November.
“It appears that Mr. Emery is using his position as Chairman of the CCRB to steer potential clients to his law firm and influence investigations at CCRB in which his firm has a potential financial benefit,” Mr. Mullins said in a Feb. 17 press release. “It is no coincidence that Mr. Emery’s firm entered the case of Luckey vs. City of New York et al immediately after CCRB completed its prosecution of Mr. Luckey’s CCRB complaint.
“...The realization that the Chairman of CCRB—which defines itself as an ‘independent agency’ charged with investigating police misconduct—seeks to profit personally from his own agency’s decisions is astonishing and unethical.”
‘Taints the Board’
“It taints CCRB as a whole,” Mr. Mullins said in an interview. “In the interest of the public, he needs to step down or be removed.”
In addition, he said in the statement, “We demand that Police Commissioner [William J.] Bratton immediately suspend CCRB’s ability to prosecute its own cases [in NYPD administrative trials] until a full investigation into Mr. Emery’s conduct and CCRB protocol can be conducted in an impartial, transparent and wholly ethical manner.”
CCRB Executive Director Mina Malik said Mr. Emery’s actions were permitted by the Conflicts of Interest Board.
“The CCRB is fully committed to ensuring that its investigations and prosecutions are conducted ethically, objectively and with the utmost integrity,” she said in a statement. “...Any concerns related to alleged conflicts of interest with respect to Mr. Emery and the law firm of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff and Abady are addressed in the written advisory from the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board.”
Cites Confidentiality Rule
A spokesman for the conflicts board said that no public documents had been issued involving Mr. Emery and that any private advisories must be kept confidential by law.
Mr. Mullins quoted a City Charter provision mandating that “no public servant shall use or attempt to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.”
“How can that not be a violation?” he asked in the interview, referring to the law firm’s signing of Mr. Luckey as a client.
In a follow-up press release Feb. 18, he said, he had met with CCRB officials and told them that “the SBA will not allow its members to be questioned by any CCRB personnel unless we are sufficiently assured that Mr. Emery will not seek to profit off the backs of our members through CCRB’s investigation.”
PBA Sees Conflict
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a Feb. 18 letter to Mayor de Blasio, “It is reasonable to conclude that the CCRB’s findings and recommendations will play a significant role in [Mr. Luckey’s] suit, and that a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs will result in significant compensation to Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady, from which Emery, as a partner, will directly benefit.
“This arrangement presents a clear and irreconcilable conflict between Emery’s role as CCRB Chairman and his financial interest in the firm.”
Referring to the “alleged waiver” from the COIB, he wrote that any such document “is beside the point. Even requesting such a waiver is evidence that a potential conflict exists, and the granting of one does not remove the underlying conflict.”
Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, who often comments on matters of government ethics, told THE CHIEF-LEADER that the COIB should simply make public whatever it told Mr. Emery.
‘A Man of Integrity’
“Richard Emery is a man of integrity whose entanglement between his firm and the CCRB does raise questions of possible conflict,” he said. “...COIB is not serving the public interest by not releasing the information, leaving the impression that something is not right about the situation…The information can help assuage concern.”
He said the law requiring secrecy by the COIB is 25 years old and may not be relevant in today’s world.
Almost all of the CCRB members hold other jobs. The board has 13 members, although three seats are now vacant. Five of the current members, including Mr. Emery, are attorneys with private practices or law-school professorships. Other members include a retired NYPD lawyer, a pastor, an executive of the Grand Central Partnership, the head of a security firm and a paralegal with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Members may choose to serve without compensation or to accept pay on a per-meeting basis. Mr. Emery received $59,166 in 2015.
Police unions have been generally hostile to the CCRB, which they say hurts the careers of officers by dragging out investigations. They also say the quality of such investigations is poor. Mr. Emery has said he reduced the average length of investigations and is working on improving their quality.