Cleary Pro Bono Client Secures $125,000 Settlement in NYPD Misconduct Case

March 18, 2024

Cleary Gottlieb, along with pro bono partner The Bronx Defenders, represented Ms. Cheyenne Lee in her lawsuit against the City of New York and nine NYPD officers for her unconstitutional arrest, detention, and prosecution.

Ms. Lee sued under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserting constitutional claims under the First and Fourth Amendments, New York state law claims, and NYC municipal claims against the City and NYPD officers.

In December 2021, nine NYPD officers entered Ms. Lee’s home without a warrant, arrested her teenage nephew, and, after she begged them not to hurt her nephew, arrested Ms. Lee for purportedly “obstructing governmental administration.” On the night of Ms. Lee’s arrest, the officers were responding to a neighbor’s call about an alleged domestic dispute between Ms. Lee’s nephew and uncle. Upon the officers’ arrival, however, Ms. Lee’s uncle told the officers that everything was fine, and he did not want police assistance. Nevertheless, the officers forced their way into the home without a warrant and, once inside, tackled Ms. Lee’s nephew and arrested him.

As a woman of Black and Native American ancestry, Ms. Lee feared what might happen to her young nephew when faced with nine police officers and pleaded with the officers not to harm her nephew. The officers responded by arresting Ms. Lee and later fabricating the basis for Ms. Lee’s arrest in their sworn statements. Their statements were directly contradicted by the officers’ own body camera footage, which documented how Ms. Lee was arrested in retaliation for exercising her right to speak up against the police officers’ abuse of authority and questioning their illegal conduct.

Ms. Lee was never told that she was under arrest or informed of her rights. While wrongfully detained for over 40 hours, Ms. Lee’s blood pressure skyrocketed and she was taken to the hospital, where she was shackled to a hospital bed and denied access to her prescription medication. After her release, she faced five months of prosecution, repeatedly declining offers from the Bronx DA for an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, before the charges against her were finally dismissed and sealed in the interests of justice.

The NYPD’s treatment of Ms. Lee is part of a demonstrated pattern of police violence and abuse of authority that violates the rights and freedoms of New Yorkers. Indeed, the NYPD’s violent response to city-wide protests in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd resulted in a nearly $14 million class settlement. In 2022 alone, New York City paid $121 million to victims of police misconduct.

A team of lawyers from The Bronx Defenders and Cleary watched hours of body camera footage, sifted through the records relating to Ms. Lee’s unconstitutional arrest, detention, hospitalization, and prosecution, and analyzed hundreds of 1983 lawsuits against New York City and NYPD officers in drafting the complaint, conducting discovery, and navigating settlement negotiations.

After four months of mediation, the City agreed to settle Ms. Lee’s claims for $125,000. “The NYPD had no right to barge into my house, illegally arrest me, and terrorize my family,” says Ms. Lee. “We all have the same human rights to be safe and secure in our homes, but police trampled those rights when they broke into my home without a warrant and fabricated reports to justify their abuse and violence against me and my family. The epidemic of police violence, and the harm it causes to families like mine, must end. My hope is that what happened to me, and my victory, can help every Black and brown New Yorker who has been hurt, abused, or racially discriminated against by law enforcement.”