Former Det. Orlen Zambrano was able to clear himself of misconduct by simply denying his accuser’s story.
A federal judge blasted the New York Police Department (NYPD) on Monday, criticizing its defense of a detective accused of misconduct and the willingness of city attorneys to play along with biased internal investigations.
In a sweeping and highly critical decision, Judge Raymond Dearie evaluated at least 31 complaints against Brooklyn narcotics Detective Orlen Zambrano.
Zambrano, notes the New York Daily News, is being sued for using excessive force against a drug suspect. According to Dearie, the complaints never received enough attention.
“The investigations in these cases, fairly characterized, were at best modest—and no genuine factfinding occurred,” Dearie wrote. “The record further reveals that investigators routinely forgo any classic factfinding, even when there is clear corroborating evidence, preferring instead to affix the unsubstantiated label once the accused officer denies the conduct in question.”
In other words, the NYPD essentially takes officers at their word—even when they’re the ones accused of wrongdoing.
The judge, says the Daily News¸ was responding to a motion made on behalf of suspect Matthew Jenkins. The filing claims that the city should’ve been aware of Zambrano’s reputation and penchant for malice, considering the sheer volume of complaints against him.
But New York City’s Law Department’s rebuttal was as paradoxical as the NYPD’s defense: that Jenkins should never have cited Zambrano’s record, since none of the complaints lodged against him were ever officially substantiated.
“Apparently,” Dearie said, “unless an officer is caught red-handed or his conduct is undeniable for whatever reason, the NYPD and the city simply choose to regard the allegation as a nonevent […] no matter the frequency or similarities in the complaint.”
While Zambrano retired in 2015 after injuring his leg in a foot chase, he still faces two pending lawsuits, one of which is Jenkins’.
The other was filed by 56-year old Wayne Holiday, in coordination with his octogenarian mother, Esther.
Holiday, says the New York Daily News¸ has some 19 previous arrests, most of which are related to drugs. He was busted by Zambrano after accepting $40 from an undercover detective with the promise of providing crack cocaine.
However, Holiday didn’t come back with crack—he purportedly left the scene and bought beer instead. But Zambrano, along with several other back-up officers, tracked down Holiday and forced him to the ground. In the scuffle, he pulled a blade and sustained further injuries.
At least, that’s what the officers’ report says. Holiday claims that he was tackled “for no reason” because he’d asked officers about another two arrests and their legal basis. Holiday says he was thrown on the ground after being told to “mind his own business.”
Holiday claims that the detective’s excessive use of force—including an alleged beating—left him with five broken ribs. Zambrano’s colleagues later searched Holiday’s family home but failed to find any contraband.
Although the NYPD accepted the results of its internal investigation, the city later paid $140,000 in recompense.
Dearie reiterated, in his decision, that it seemed the police department did little more than ask Zambrano whether he’d done anything wrong.
Jenkins’ lawyer, Michael Lumer, said an NYPD sergeant admitted that he cleared Zambrano’s misconduct complaints without reviewing medical records.
Lumer says that Dearie’s decision “confirms the NYPD’s institutional refusal to supervise and discipline its officers, particularly the repeat offenders who have a serious track record of serious misconduct.”