A New York attorney and a former NYPD officer are suing the department over what they say is a widespread and widespread pattern of harassment of immigrants by officers in their custody.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan by attorney Chris Watson, a retired NYPD detective who has represented clients accused of crimes including rape and murder.
Watson said that in the past few months, he has spoken with more than 70 immigrants detained in New York City, mostly from Central America and the Caribbean, who have said they have been sexually assaulted by officers or threatened with violence.
The lawsuit seeks to ensure the safety of immigrants detained on New York’s West Side and beyond, as well as a review of NYPD practices in relation to detaining them.
Watson, who retired from the NYPD in 2018, said he filed the suit on behalf of several immigrants who had been arrested in New Jersey, Illinois and Florida and who had experienced similar abusive behavior.
“This is not about some petty allegation of harassment, this is a systemic issue that has been going on for years,” Watson said in an interview.
“It’s not just an allegation that happens in the wrong place or time.
It’s a systematic problem that is being systematically ignored.”
Waters lawsuit, which seeks compensatory damages for plaintiffs who were subjected to sexual assault, racial discrimination, unlawful search and seizure and false arrest, accuses New York Police Department officers of failing to protect them from such abuse.
The officers are accused of creating an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and violence.
Police Commissioner William Bratton has denied the allegations and has said that his department is “committed to being the best law enforcement agency in the country.”
The NYPD declined to comment.
In a statement to Fox News, Bratton said the department has a “strong and vibrant community of police officers who work with and support each other in their efforts to maintain public safety.”
“As the Chief of Police, I am responsible for ensuring that the department and our officers are the best that they can be,” Bratton wrote.
“I am committed to ensuring that officers are trained to be respectful of the rights of all members of the public.
I look forward to working with my police department and the community to address this issue as quickly as possible.”
The complaint accuses the NYPD of “engaging in a culture of harassment” and “engaged in an unlawful search-and-seizure of detainees.”
It also alleges that officers made derogatory comments about detainees and told them to “go back to Guatemala,” a reference to the Central American country where many of the detainees are from.
Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a civil rights complaint against the NYPD, alleging that officers had “inappropriately questioned and intimidated” detainees.
In an interview, Watson said he has met with a dozen immigrants detained over the past three years, some of whom have filed claims of rape and other forms of abuse.
He said he is working with at least two dozen other immigrants who have alleged similar abuse.
But the officers are said to have engaged in a pattern of excessive force, which has resulted in a number of arrests and charges against immigrants, according to the complaint.
“There are hundreds of cases of misconduct by NYPD officers that go unreported,” Watson told Fox News.
“There’s an enormous amount of people who are being falsely accused of rape, of beating people up.
It goes on for a long time.”