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Police Oversight Board Chairwoman Used Position To Get Out Of Ticket

New York City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson was fined $5,000 by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board on Thursday.

New York, NY – A New York City councilwoman who oversaw the city’s civilian complaint review board and police department has been fined $5,000 for using her position to get out of a traffic ticket.

The fine against Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson was imposed by the New York Conflicts of Interest Board on Thursday, the New York Daily News reported.

The incident occurred on March 11, 2014, when New York Police Officer Michele Hernandez stopped a driver for allegedly using a cell phone while driving, according to The New York Times.

The driver was Gibson.

While still in the process of pulling over, Gibson dialed up then-NYPD 44th Precinct Deputy Inspector Kevin Catalina and told him that she had done nothing wrong, the New York Daily News reported.

Deputy Inspector Catalina contacted the precinct’s desk officer, who in turn contacted Officer Hernandez and told her not to issue Gibson a citation.

When Officer Hernandez approached Gibson’s vehicle, the councilwoman handed the officer her phone.

Deputy Inspector Catalina was at the other end of the line.

He then informed Officer Hernandez that Gibson was the chair of the New York City Council’s Public Safety Committee, and told her to “admonish” Gibson instead of writing her a ticket, the New York Daily News reported.

Deputy Inspector Catalina was later promoted to the position of deputy chief, according to the New York Times.

“The deputy chief told the police officer that I was head of the Public Safety Committee and asked the police officer to admonish me instead of issuing a summons,” Gibson told the Conflicts of Interest Board on Thursday.

Gibson denied Officer Hernandez’s allegation that she was talking on her phone prior to being pulled over.

She also argued that she never “explicitly” asked the deputy inspector to get her out of the $50 ticket.

The board ultimately ruled that Gibson is “an elected official who should be held to a high level of compliance,” the New York Times reported.

Her behavior during the 2014 traffic stop “could create the impression that high-level city officials receive preferential treatment from law enforcement,” the board noted.

Gibson agreed to pay the $5,000 fine.

“Thank You Lord for being exactly who you are in my life. I remain grateful,” she wrote in a since-deleted Twitter post shortly after the board announced the settlement, according to the New York Daily News.

Gibson also released a statement downplaying her role in the incident.

“In 2014, my vehicle was stopped by the police and the officer told me she observed me using my cell phone. I was not,” Gibson claimed. “I told the officer and her superiors that she was mistaken. I was admonished on the spot, but did not receive a traffic ticket.”

The councilwoman said that she should have accepted any ticket the officer might have issued, and “then contested it through the appropriate legal channels.”

“I apologize to our community for my actions, accept full responsibility for my conduct, and will abide by [the board’s] ruling,” Gibson said.

The traffic stop came to light back in 2016, when Officer Hernandez filed a $35 million lawsuit against the NYPD for forcing her to participate in what she claimed were “illegal ‘performance goals’ mandating increasing numbers of arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks to the detriment of citizens of color,” according to the lawsuit.

According to Officer Hernandez, the department retaliated against her by repeatedly transferring her to less-desirable assignments and shifts when she refused to comply with the performance goals mandates, The New York Times reported.

Officer Hernandez said she kept a copy of the citation she wrote Gibson “because she knew it was wrong” that her superiors forced her to void the ticket, according to the lawsuit.

The officer further alleged that, as a favor to Gibson, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office launched a probe in order to harass her for stopping Gibson in the first place, the New York Post reported.

After the lawsuit was filed, Gibson initially claimed she didn’t remember the traffic stop detailed therein, the New York Daily News reported.

Officer Hernandez’s lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by Brooklyn Federal Judge John Koeltl.

“The complaint doesn’t satisfy itself with specific allegations with respect to the people who directly interacted with the plaintiff,” Koeltl said of the suit in May of 2018, according to the New York Daily News.

Her attorney, Eric Sanders, said that the officer decided not to pursue the matter any further.

“The lawsuit was dismissed and she decided not to follow through because look at what happened to her,” Sanders told the New York Post on Thursday. “She was right all along. She’s got a very bitter taste in her mouth about how she was treated.”

The attorney further noted that the board’s ruling backed up many of Officer Hernandez’s claims.

“It goes to show you that what she was saying was the truth from the beginning,” Sanders told the New York Daily News. “The city made a motion to dismiss knowing damn well [Gibson] did it. These people are such a bunch of liars.”

One month after instructing Officer Hernandez not to write Gibson a ticket, then-Deputy Inspector Catalina was promoted as the head of the NYPD’s gang division, the New York Post reported.

In March of 2016, he was promoted to deputy chief. He has since retired from the NYPD and is now serving as the undersheriff in Suffolk County, according to The New York Times.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s spokesperson denied to comment regarding whether or not Gibson might face disciplinary action for her role in the 2014 incident.

Holly Matkin - February Thu, 2020


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