A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by two brothers falsely accused of selling drugs to undercover cops can go forward, saying that some evidence suggests the practice was widespread.
In allowing the case against the city and fourteen officers to proceed, Judge Jack Weinstein said Monday that a majority of the police force "does not engage in such fabrications" and the police department is generally outstanding.
Jose and Maximo Colon were charged with selling two bags of cocaine worth $100 after they were arrested at Club Delicias in Queens on Jan. 5 2008. But a video from the club's security cameras backed up the brothers' accounts that they did nothing wrong, and the charges were dropped months later.
But, he said, "There is some evidence of an attitude among officers that is sufficiently widespread to constitute a custom or policy by the city approving illegal conduct."
Weinstein said it would be worthwhile to look into whether police officers who lie in testimony have not been sufficiently disciplined or lacked training.
Queens prosecutors brought criminal charges against two undercover officers, Henry Taverez and Stephen Anderson. Tavarez pleaded guilty to filling out an affidavit describing a drug deal that never happened. Anderson pleaded not guilty and his case is pending. Both have resigned from the force.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Tuesday the department takes quick action against any officer found committing perjury.
"Unfortunately, it seems to happen not for personal gain, but some officers will do it as a matter of convenience," Kelly said.
Kelly said the department was aggressively training officers on how to testify in court. They receive training in the police academy by former district attorneys and, again, before they go to testify in a case.
Rochelle Berliner, a former narcotics prosecutor who represents Jose Colon, said in a statement that she and her co-counsel Christina Hall were pleased with the decision.
"It was a big hurdle to cross," she said. "But most of all, we want justice for Jose and Maximo Colon and we will see this case through until we reach that goal."
The city law department, which is representing the officers, said it was evaluating the legal options.
At least two other officers have been charged with perjury this year.