POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Apr 12, 2014
NEW YORK » Two days after he had been shot, Andre Daly awoke in a haze with a police officer standing by his hospital bed in Brooklyn.
"I'm thinking he's going to talk about the incident that happened to me — how I got shot," Daly, 29, recently recalled. But the officer was not there to interview Daly. He had come to arrest him over an unpaid summons.
"He's telling me now I'm a prisoner of New York City because I have a warrant," Daly said.
Daly spent more than a week immobilized, not just by his three bullet wounds, but also by a set of handcuffs and ankle restraints — all because of an unpaid $25 fine for possessing a cup of wine in public.
What happened to Daly in December was no fluke. The New York Police Department routinely performs warrant checks on shooting victims. If an outstanding warrant is found, the police generally handcuff and shackle the victim, often for the whole hospital stay, no matter how minor the underlying offense or how grievous the injuries.
"That's the procedure," the department's chief spokesman, Stephen Davis, said, explaining that the "patrol guide says prisoners will be handcuffed at all times."
"We're not handcuffing him by virtue of him being a victim," Davis said, referring in general to instances where shooting victims were arrested on minor warrants. "But if he has a warrant, it would require him to be in our custody."
Patients who are arrested on warrant violations are typically held by the police under harsher conditions than those who are wounded while either committing crimes or struggling with the police. In those cases, suspects are often provided a lawyer comparatively quickly, and fall under the supervision of the Correction Department, whose rules limit the use of restraints.
However, the Police Department patrol guide says that its "policy is to handcuff all hospitalized prisoners to ensure the safety of persons present and prevent escape." The patrol guide does recognize a few exceptions, including prisoners who are comatose or paralyzed. In nearly all cases, an officer is assigned to guard the prisoner.
Police officials said they did not keep statistics regarding how many of the city's 1,299 shooting victims last year were arrested on warrants. It is standard police practice to check them for warrants, Davis, the police spokesman, explained, "as part of the victimology" - a police phrase for researching the background of a crime victim. That can offer clues into who might have menaced the victim in the past as well as help detectives assess the victim's credibility as they put together a case.
"When someone is shot, and when they go to investigate, they will run him for warrants," Davis said.
But victims and their lawyers said that it is one thing to look into a victim's background; it is quite another to use a warrant as grounds to shackle people for days or weeks while they are recovering from gunshot wounds.
"It's particularly egregious where they have minor offenses," said Seymour W. James Jr., the lawyer in charge of the Legal Aid Society's criminal practice, which represents many of the hospitalized prisoners. "They consider everybody who has a warrant a fugitive."
After inquiries by The , Susan Herman, a deputy police commissioner who is examining ways for the department to improve its interactions with crime victims, said in a recent interview that she intended to review the department's practice of handcuffing shooting victims held on minor warrants.
"I think it's a policy that we absolutely will be reviewing," Herman said.
Warrants for unpaid tickets are not uncommon, particularly among young black men in high-crime neighborhoods, where the police focus their enforcement efforts. According to the court system, there are 1.2 million outstanding warrants coming from the city's Criminal Court, which handles only violations and misdemeanors. Many are for unpaid summonses.
The policy can cause health complications. Dr. John Raba, who has been appointed by a federal judge in New York to monitor the treatment of hospitalized prisoners in the custody of the Correction Department, said immobilizing prisoners could generally impede healing and increased the risk of blood clots.
Lequint Singleton had been shot in the back but was being held by the police because of two outstanding warrants: one for an open container and another for a disorderly conduct summons. As he was being prepared for surgery in August to stanch internal bleeding, Singleton said he recalled having to wait while "the doctors were arguing with the cop" about the handcuffs. "The doctor tells him: 'It has to come off. There's no way it's staying on. He's going into surgery.'"
The handcuffs were removed during surgery, but by the time Singleton awoke, he found himself handcuffed and shackled again — and would remain so for about three weeks, he said.
"It wasn't like they were serious cases — it wasn't like I was on the run," Singleton said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I got shot."
One 19-year-old man who had been shot several times on Feb. 16, but was arrested on a warrant over a disorderly conduct summons, said that after a week of being handcuffed to the hospital bed, he urged the police to take him to court even though he was still wounded.
"I was like, 'I got to get out of here,'" said the man, who asked to be identified as Roy, a shortened version of his middle name, because he feared retaliation.
Roy said he was so weak that an officer had to support his slight frame as they entered the courtroom. "It was hard for me to walk," he said.
A judge told him to stay out of trouble and released him, recalled Roy's lawyer, Bharati Narumanchi, who confirmed Roy's account of his detention at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn. The lawyer added that Roy did not have the strength to immediately leave the courthouse; he first lay down on a bench to rest.
Another shooting victim, Kenneth Briggs, 53, was handcuffed at Mount Sinai-St. Luke's hospital in Manhattan for several weeks while he was in a medically induced coma, after he was shot on July 28. He said the police had told him he was handcuffed because of three outstanding warrants, all for nonviolent offenses.
"I woke up and tried to move, but they had me handcuffed," Briggs recalled during a recent interview at Rikers Island jail, where he is serving a sentence for the sale of counterfeit New York Knicks tickets.
He said that after he woke up from his coma, the restraints remained on for many days, delaying his physical therapy. As soon as the restraints came off, he said, he began to hobble around his room and the hospital, relearning how to walk. "They didn't start physical therapy until after I was uncuffed," he said.
Asked if he was bitter about the whole experience, Briggs responded, "I'm mainly bitter about being shot."
The policy also affects family members of those hospitalized; because the patients are in police custody, visitors are told to get a permission slip from the precinct that is good for only a single visit. When Daly underwent surgery at Brookdale Hospital on Dec. 15, his mother, Thelma Coley, said she was barred from seeing her son that day.
"An officer said we can't come because he's under arrest and we have to go to the precinct," Coley said.
Daly said his warrant stemmed from an episode last summer. He said that while at a barbecue, he walked outside to talk on the phone and placed a cup of wine on the yard's fence, which led to a summons from a passing officer. He missed his court date, he said, because he could not find a sitter for his 4-year-old son.
After his arrest in the hospital, Daly said, shackles were placed on his ankles, and his one good hand was handcuffed to the bed. (His other hand had been shattered by a bullet, requiring the insertion of pins.) The restraints left him unable to move much. He could not scratch an itch or adjust the colostomy bag that he was using as a result of a bullet that passed through his stomach.
When doctors wanted to examine an exit wound on his backside, they had to first ask the officer to uncuff him so that he could be turned over. A new officer came to guard him every eight or 12 hours. A captain, Daly said, would periodically "stick his head into the room to make sure I'm handcuffed and shackled."
Mostly, the officers passed the time playing games on their cellphones; Daly said he could hear the sounds of the game Candy Crush.
Joseph Goldstein, New York Times