Police misconduct is getting to be an expensive habit for taxpayers. Jonathan Fleming is the latest Black man to be compensated for spending nearly 25 years incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Fleming, who was released from jail last year, initially planned to sue the city of New York for $162 million but eventually settled for $6.25 million.
Comptroller Scott Stringer said settling the Fleming claim was “in the best interest of all parties,” reported The Associated Press.
The case revealed shockingly incompetent work by the police, prosecution and defense. Fleming was charged in the shooting of a friend in Brooklyn, New York. He always insisted he was innocent and provided plenty of evidence to back up his alibi, such as plane tickets, video and receipts proving he was 1,000 miles away in Orlando, Florida, when the crime occurred.
The case against Fleming was based mainly on evidence provided by an eyewitness, who later recanted. The prosecution had also neglected to provide evidence to the defense that could have cleared Fleming. They also didn’t share a Florida receipt or a 1989 letter from the Orlando police saying Fleming had been recognized by local hotel workers.
Although Fleming might now be a millionaire, he paid a high price for his incarceration. The Associated Press said his mother is near death. He was falsely imprisoned for nearly half of his life.
Bad policing and wrongful sentences are costing the city of New York a lot of money. The New York Post reported the city had paid $185 million to settle cases against the New York Police Department in 2011. According to The Los Angeles Times, in 2014 a federal judge approved paying $41 million to settle a case filed by the Central Park Five, five Black and Latino youths who were convicted of the much-publicized assault and rape of a white jogger in 1989. The young men later spent between six and 13 years in jail. The case eventually fell apart when DNA tied Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist, to the crime.
Unfortunately, this is a national problem. Across the country, taxpayers are footing the bill for bad policing. The Baltimore Sun reported the city had paid $5.7 million to settle police abuse cases since 2011. And infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has cost local taxpayers $44 million in payments to settle lawsuits, according to The Arizona Republic.
There seems to be a disconnect between the public, which demands civil servants better use public money, and the idea that police misconduct ends up wasting taxpayer money.
Dr. Cassi Fields, founder of Fields Consulting Group, has trained and tested police officers at various metropolitan areas and municipalities. She said the public needs to take a hard look at public records and see where cities are spending their money, especially when it comes to law enforcement.
“We, as citizens who are taxpayers, have a minimal understanding of how our tax dollars are spent,” Fields said.
One of the problems she has observed is the lack of refresher training for officers. Fields said cities would be better off investing money in police retraining, to prevent departments getting embroiled in lawsuits.
“Fields pointed out most officers undergo rigorous training in police academies. The training lasts from 16-20 weeks and includes psychological, physical and weapons training. However, once they graduate, there is little follow-up training,” according to an Atlanta Blackstar article. “‘I believe we are seeing a selection and training problem,’ Fields said. ‘Police officers don’t train constantly.’”
However, until the public recognizes the link between bad policing and wasted tax dollars, lawsuits will continue, leaving lawyers getting rich and Black men still dying.