We have always taken the position that trial lawyers who represent victims have a responsibility not only to achieve appropriate damage awards for those who have suffered wrong doing at the hands of others, be it families who have lost a loved one, or the victims themselves, to work for change so what happened to one victim will not happen to anyone else similarly situated.
In order to accomplish that, a recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholding a policy of The New York City Police Department requiring officers who fire a gun that injures or kills a person to immediately take a Breathalyzer must be codified. This policy had its genesis after the Sean Bell police shooting death by an NYPD undercover officer outside a Queens night club in 2006, in a recommendation made by a government panel appointed after that shooting and enacted as a policy of the NYPD by direction of the Police Commissioner. The New York State legislature needs to enact and the governor needs to sign a statute to turn this policy into law. Not only will that extend this policy beyond the borders of New York City to communities all over this State, but also would keep this policy in effect regardless of who the Police Commissioner may be. At present a new Commissioner could end this policy with the stroke of a pen. Although that is unlikely given the progressive credentials of the incoming Mayor who will appoint the new Police commissioner, it is a policy which could easily be eliminated by a Police Commissioner in the future. The need for this policy to be continued was very well articulated by NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau Chief Charles Campsi who submitted a declaration in the lawsuit saying the reasons for Breathalyzer testing was to protect the integrity of the NYPD and the safety of the policy and the public, deter alcohol intoxication by officers and to assure “the public that one of the most important and daunting powers of the police, the power to apply deadly force when necessary is not being abused or used by officers who are under the influence of alcohol.” Clearly it is in the public interest to turn this policy into law.
It would not only be in the interest of the people of this Sate with regard to public safety but also build confidence in the police which is so important for the public when it comes to their interactions with police for a new state law be enacted mandating Breathalyzer tests for police after they fire their weapon and kill and injure a citizen.
*Sanford Rubenstein and Michael Hardy were the civil counsel for the estate of Sean Bell and victims Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield.