More than a dozen Big Apple sexual-assault survivors have penned a letter to the Department of Justice asking for a probe into the NYPD’s “ongoing mistreatment of gender-based-violence” victims and its alleged failure to properly investigate their cases, The Post has learned.
The letter — sent Monday to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, his top deputy, Vanita Gupta, and the assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke — asks the feds to open a “patterns-or-practice” probe into the NYPD to examine allegations of gender bias when investigating sex crimes.
“Because we wanted to protect others from the kinds of harm we suffered, as well as to seek justice for ourselves, we reported our assaults to the NYPD,” says the letter, signed by 19 people — 17 gender-based-violence survivors and two mothers of victims.
“We expected that the well-funded, technologically sophisticated police agency of the nation’s largest city would respond to our assaults with professionalism and with thorough, skillful, truth-seeking investigations,” the letter states.
“What we experienced was the opposite.”
The survivors wrote that their cases were assigned to officers who either didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t seem to care, failing to interview key witnesses or obtain crucial surveillance footage.
One person was asked by her detective if she was “sure” she wanted to prosecute her attacker because “who knows, you could end up dating him,” and a disabled survivor was asked if they were sure they “fully understood” their rape, the letter says.
“In many cases, these failures damaged our cases beyond repair and destroyed our hopes of seeing our attackers held accountable,” the letter states, calling the NYPD’s response to sex crimes both “negligent and sexist.”
Leslie McFadden, one of the letter’s signers, told The Post she expected a swift and thorough investigation when she reported her rape to the NYPD in October 2015 but instead, she was tricked into closing the case.
“The very first thing that the detective asked me when he was interviewing me was essentially, ‘Is this really a case of assault, or is it a case of regret?’” McFadden, 37, explained by phone.
“So I had to start my conversation with this detective defending myself, having to explain why I was wasting his time with my rape, and it just went downhill from there.”
The content designer, who now lives in California, said she was asked to record a phone call with her attacker that she wasn’t properly prepared for, and at the end, while she was sobbing and in distress, the detective shoved a document in front of her and asked her to sign it.
“What he didn’t tell me was that it was a case-closure form, and he used that form to close my case without my knowledge shortly after I signed it,” McFadden said.
“From the very beginning, I was lied to, I was dismissed. … It has been a gut punch to deal with [the NYPD].”
Desdemona Dallas Meck, who also signed the letter, was 22 years old when two men attempted to rape them in The Bronx in 2010. When they later reported the crime to a female NYPD detective, they were told they “should toughen up” and asked if they were sure they didn’t do something to indicate they wanted to have sex with the men.
“Her saying that did bring up a lot of guilt for me, and I carried that for a long time thinking this was my fault, and that’s not fair,” Meck, who uses “they/them” pronouns, told The Post.
“There needs to be more training for NYPD officers to recognize the nuances of these situations and that even when someone is working in the best interest of the victim, they still may be saying something that is traumatizing or isn’t supportive.”
The letter says the issues the survivors faced, primarily in the NYPD’s Special Victims Division, are not “isolated” instances but part of a larger “systemic” problem that has yet to be fixed, even after a scathing Department of Investigation probe in 2018 found the department was woefully understaffed and under-trained.
“We have learned that the NYPD currently assigns less than one percent of its force to handle all cases of sexual assault and all cases of child abuse for New York City, and that Special Victims investigators have made it clear for years that they lack adequate staff to conduct thorough sexual assault investigations,” the letter states.
“We have learned that inexperienced ‘white shields’ (officers who are not even detectives) are assigned to the Special Victims Unit and put in charge of rape cases, and that they receive grossly inadequate training once there.”
An NYPD rep responded with a statement saying SVD investigators “bring a victim-centric and evidence-driven approach, and work tirelessly to build the strongest possible case.
“The NYPD is committed to ensuring that all sexual assault survivors feel the safety and support needed to come forward and help the NYPD bring them the justice they deserve,” the statement said.
“The NYPD has made major improvements to strengthen the Special Victims Division with a victim-centered approach, including a new commanding officer whose background includes forensic nursing, adding investigators to the squads, working with victim advocates to offer support and services to survivors and deepened training to amplify the Department’s ability to respond effectively to survivors, while continuing to conduct full and thorough investigations.”
Federal law gives the DOJ the authority to open sweeping “patterns-or-practices” investigations into any law-enforcement agency of its choosing, and the probes can center on issues such as racial bias and use of force, as well as alleged failures to protect.
If systemic violations are found at the end of the investigation, the DOJ will work with the agency to ensure the issues are remedied, and if they aren’t, can file suit to secure the necessary reforms.
Since President Biden took office, the DOJ has opened such investigations into the Minneapolis Police Department and the Louisville Metro Police Department after the police murder of George Floyd and the death of Breonna Taylor.
The DOJ did not return a request for comment asking if it plans to also open an investigation into the NYPD.
The letters’ signers said that if the DOJ does open a probe, the feds will be sending a “message that women and survivors are fully equal human beings, entitled to equal protection.
“Experiencing sexual assault was horrific, but for many of us, the ordeal of having our cases neglected, trivialized, and discarded by the NYPD added a whole new layer of trauma that was as devastating as the crime itself. For some of us, it felt even more devastating than the crime,” the letter states.
“We worry—more than our case detectives ever did—about the perpetrators who attacked us. We wonder how many other people they have gone on to harm, because the NYPD failed to take action to stop them. Our ability to heal from the trauma of sexual assault was badly compromised by the NYPD’s failure to treat our assaults as if they mattered.”