NYC Drops Most Riot, Looting Cases

NYC Drops Most Riot, Looting Cases people in zip tie handcuffs sit on curb as cops stand over them People are arrested after looting on June 2, 2020, in New York City. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Monday, 21 June 2021 08:40 AM

New York City district attorneys have refused to prosecute most rioting and looting cases from last year's May and June violence, WNBC-TV reported Friday.

Hundreds of arrests were made — mostly in Manhattan and the Bronx — as a result of violence when mobs and organized criminals took to the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic and following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Based on NYPD data, WNBC reported that 485 arrests were made in Manhattan. Of those cases, 222 were dropped and 73 resulted in convictions for lesser counts, such as trespassing, which carries no jail time. Another 40 cases involved juveniles and were sent to family court; 128 cases remain open.

Police were outnumbered and seemingly unprepared as mobs ransacked stores. Many looters were caught on tape, some with their faces visible, while others posted their actions on social media.

"We got the Rolex store," some in the crowd can be heard screaming in one video, NBC New York said.

In the Bronx, 73 of 118 arrests made in during the worst of the looting in early June 2020 were dismissed, according to WNBC. A total of 18 cases remain open, and there have been 19 convictions for mostly lesser counts.

"Those numbers, to be honest with you, is disgusting," eyeglass shop owner Jessica Betancourt told NBC New York after being told that few cases were being prosecuted.

Betancourt, whose store was looted and destroyed amid the violence, said local business leaders are upset few are being held accountable for the destruction they caused.

"I was in total shock that everything is being brushed off to the side," Betancourt, vice president of a local merchants association, told WNBC.

"[The accused] could [loot] again because they know they won’t get the right punishment."

Bronx DA Darcell Clark and Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance declined WNBC’s repeated requests for interviews.

Vance’s team has been focused investigating separate allegations of tax fraud surrounding former President Donald Trump’s businesses. (Trump denies the allegations.)

WNBC reported Vance circulated an internal memo, in which he said there were more than 600 commercial burglary arrests and more than 3,500 unindicted felony cases waiting to move forward in the courts. The memo said the pandemic resulted in all those cases being put on hold.

Vance told his prosecutors to review defendants' criminal histories, whether police could really place the suspect at the scene, and whether the individual caused "any damage to the store" before deciding to drop a case, according to WNBC.

"For many of these commercial burglaries, you will be asked to reduce the initial felony charge to a misdemeanor and to dispose of the case … with an eye towards rehabilitation,” said Vance, who added the "continued goal to achieve consistency and equitable treatment in these cases," according to NBC New York.

Former NYPD Chief of Patrol Wilbur Chapman, now a law enforcement expert, expressed outrage to WNBC at the DAs dropping so many of the looting and burglary cases.

"If they are so overworked that they can’t handle the mission that they're hired for, then maybe they should find another line of work," Chapman said.

WNBC sources in the DAs' offices said evidence, in some cases, was not strong enough for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

With courts closed amid the pandemic, a huge backlog of cases existed for both the courts and prosecutors.

An NYPD task force was created to examine videos and photos from the riots, in an attempt to separate suspected rioters from peaceful protesters. The FBI is doing similar work regarding the attack on Capitol.

But although federal prosecutors are moving forward with prosecutions of the Jan. 6 assault, New York City prosecutors are disposing of most burglary-related cases.

NBC New York reported the NYPD said there was tedious follow-up investigations in which evidence included photos and recovered stolen property.

"We had to analyze each case individually and see if, in fact, we could prove the right person had committed the crime," Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias, told WNBC.

Chapman told the NBC affiliate that while the NYPD did some follow-up, data showed the district attorneys and the courts have not.

"It allowed people who committed crimes to go scot free," Chapman said.