$2M False Arrest Win May Spawn New Legal Fights For NYPD

By Marco Poggio | April 21, 2023, 11:23 PM EDT ·

Jawaun Fraser (young Black male in a grey hoodie and a tan work vest and pants, pictured standing next to a taller middle-aged white man with sunglasses) four days before his robbery arrest in October 2014. Fraser had passed an entrance exam to Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 a month earlier. (Court documents)

Jawaun Fraser (left) four days before his robbery arrest in October 2014. Fraser had passed an entrance exam to Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 a month earlier. (Court documents)

For 18-year-old Jawaun Fraser, it was supposed to be an ordinary trip to the drug store. But what unfolded that night in October 2014 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, instead turned his life into a Kafkaesque nightmare after he outed a man who said was looking to buy crack as an undercover police officer.

As he was arrested for robbery, Fraser had no way of knowing that the officers who charged him had been the target of dozens of civil lawsuits over alleged evidence fabrication, abuse of power and other misconduct — the New York Police Department and prosecutors never told his lawyers.

Almost 10 years later, including the two years he spent in prison before a state court threw out his conviction as a result of the disclosure failure, a federal jury found at the end of a civil trial last month that the evidence used in his prosecution had been made up. Awarding nearly $2 million in damages to Fraser, now 27, jurors also concluded that the NYPD had systemically failed to train officers to turn over information, such as civil suits filed against them, that could be favorable to defendants.

The verdict vindicated Fraser, but it could also have more far-reaching implications.

According to Joel B. Rudin, one of the attorneys representing Fraser, the verdict could be used to challenge hundreds of criminal cases, both prior and still pending, involving Fraser's arresting officer — an undercover cop identified in court papers only as UC 84.

"The Manhattan DA's Office has the obligation to disclose to all of those criminal defendants that he's now been found by a jury to have fabricated an entire case," Rudin told Law360. "Now that's admissible in evidence in any future criminal trial where the officer is a witness."

The taint, he suggested, could be irreparable.

"It seems to me it should end the career of the undercover," he added.

A spokesperson for the NYPD declined to comment on whether the department will take disciplinary actions in light of the verdict.

"We are disappointed in the verdict, and remain committed to meeting our disclosure obligations," the spokesperson said in an email. "The events underlying this case occurred almost a decade ago. In the years since, we have continued working with our prosecutorial partners to enhance our procedures and ensure that disclosures are complete and timely."  

A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Fraser and has jurisdiction over most drug cases in the borough, said the office has "detailed protocols" in place to ensure it complies with disclosure obligations stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brady v. Maryland .

"Our Post-Conviction Justice Unit is conducting a review of convictions these officers were involved with," the spokesperson, Douglas Cohen, said in an email.

Kati Cornell, a spokesperson for the Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Office, which handles some drug-related prosecutions in New York City, said the office has already identified all open criminal cases involving the officers and has begun to notify defendants.

"As to past defendants who have convictions resulting from arrests involving these officers, we plan to identify, and assess appropriate next steps," Cornell said in an email. "Defendants who went to hearing or trial post October 21, 2014, where one of these officers testified, will be notified via a letter to attorneys. We are reviewing the need for additional notifications."

In addition to possibly tarnishing scores of criminal cases, Rudin said that evidence gathered during Fraser's civil trial also made clear that, for decades, New York City failed to instruct its workforce to provide defendants with evidence that could be favorable to them, which is required under the Brady ruling and its progeny.

"They made a conscious decision to have no system at all," Rudin said. "It is highly unusual to obtain discovery showing that the city has an overtly unlawful policy, or that they are so obviously indifferent to their Brady obligations. It was really quite extraordinary."

By the numbers

The Outcome of the Fraser Trial

Compensatory Damages

$1.5 M

Punitive Damages


against Undercover Officer #84


against Det. Matthew Regina (Shield #2389)


against Det. Jason Deltoro (Shield #4218)

'The Anatomy Of A Lie'

Fraser was on his way to a Lower East Side drugstore that night in October 2014 to buy some aspirin for his mother's migraine. On his way, however, he was approached in the courtyard of a housing project by a woman and a man — the undercover officer later identified as UC 84 — who asked if he could sell him some "krills," a slang term for crack cocaine.

Two competing stories emerged throughout Fraser's criminal case as to what happened next.

Fraser denied that he was selling drugs, but the man insisted, telling him that he knew his mother and where they lived. Concerned about hearing this from that stranger, and on a hunch that he might be a cop — there were rumors going around that he was — Fraser asked the man to show his ID. When the man showed his driver license, Fraser took out his iPhone and snapped a picture of it. At that point, realizing the photo could be used to blow his cover, UC84 grabbed Fraser, sending the ID falling to the ground, and gave a distress signal to call for backup.

During opening arguments in the civil trial last month, Michael Bloch, an attorney who worked alongside Rudin to represent Fraser, described the officer's reaction as one of panic.

"He knew his identity was compromised in a neighborhood that he'd worked countless times as an undercover, and so he panicked," Bloch told jurors, according to a transcript.

In a matter of seconds, a pair of detectives, Jason Deltoro and Matthew Regina, arrived at the scene and identified themselves as police. Scared of being beaten up, Fraser fled, running for about two blocks before being arrested and searched, according to Fraser's civil complaint.

While the cops seized Fraser's phone, they found no weapons, drugs or other contraband on him, evidence vouchers filed by officers after the arrest show.

"The police knew that they had just chased a young man through the neighborhood with everyone watching, tackled him, seized his stuff, and they needed to hold on to that phone," Bloch told the jury. "So they made up a story to justify their false arrest."

UC 84 and his colleagues went-on to fill out paperwork with statements that the jury later found to be made up. The undercover wrote a complaint follow-up report, known as a DD5, where he said Fraser had robbed him of both his fake ID and $20 in cash tagged to use in their sting operation.

Regina wrote in a criminal court complaint that Fraser had threatened UC 84 saying "give me your money and ID or I'll fuck you up" and that he called other people to assist in the robbery. Regina and Deltoro signed a property voucher that falsely claimed that UC 84's driver's license had been found on Fraser, while it actually had fallen to the ground before Fraser fled. The voucher didn't list the $20 bill, which the police said Fraser had taken, but that was never found.

The police ultimately charged Fraser with second degree robbery, a felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

At the end of a November 2015 criminal trial that relied heavily on testimony from his arresting officers, a jury cleared Fraser of the second-degree robbery charge, but found him guilty on a lesser alternative charge: robbery in the third degree — also a felony. He was sentenced the following January to a term of two to six years in prison. He served nearly two years behind bars before getting released on parole.

After getting his conviction thrown out years later following a motion to vacate on the basis of the Brady violation filed by the nonprofit public defense firm Center for Appellate Litigation, Fraser decided it was time to tell his own story. In 2020, he filed a civil lawsuit filed in federal court against his arresting officers and New York City.

When the case went to trial over seven days last month, Fraser, UC 84, Regina and Deltoro were all called to the stand to tell their version of events. On March 21, the eight-member jury ultimately found Fraser's story to be more believable as they concluded that the three officers had concocted the evidence used to convict him. The jury also found UC 84 and Deltoro liable for denying Fraser a fair trial due to the withholding of Brady material.

"Their stories had all of the hallmarks of what lies look like. They were inconsistent with each other, they were inconsistent with themselves. It was utterly improbable. There was no corroboration whatsoever," Bloch told Law360. "The case that we presented, in my view, was really what I think of as the anatomy of a lie."

Three documents Fraser claimed at trial had been fabricated by his arresting officers: PX-2 (Arrest report by Det. Regina, approved by Lt. Patane and entered by Det. Lee), PX-6 (Criminal court complaint signed by Det. Regina), and PX-9 (DD5 signed by UC 84).

Brady Violations Key To Fraser's Conviction

As he was put in handcuffs after his encounter with UC 84, all Fraser knew was that he had been framed. What he didn't know — and what the NYPD later failed to disclose to his defense attorney ahead of his criminal trial — was that every officer involved in the "buy-and-bust" operation that led to his arrest had been the subject of civil lawsuits alleging misconduct that would have been relevant to his defense.

Under the Supreme Court's decision in Brady, which was handed down in 1963, prosecutors have an obligation to turn over all potentially exculpatory evidence in a case to defense attorneys. A subsequent 1972 high court case, Giglio v. United States , clarified that Brady also applied to information that could be used to impeach prosecution witnesses, such as civil lawsuits against testifying police officers.

In addition to federal case law, a 2014 decision by the New York State's highest court — People v. Garrett — held that it is appropriate for defense counsel to be able to ask police officers questions about past allegations of misconduct and that the police and the district attorney have the obligation to turn that information over to defense counsel because it is Brady material.

In the run-up to Fraser's criminal trial in November 2015, prosecutors told his then-defense attorney, Geoffrey Stewart, about a handful of civil lawsuits against his arresting officers — including two against UC 84 and one against Regina — alleging false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, unlawful search and excessive force.

It turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.

In May 2019, attorneys with the Center for Appellate Litigation filed a motion to toss Fraser's conviction after uncovering at least 35 lawsuits that had been filed against the officers involved in his arrest. All of them ended with settlements, except for two that were dismissed, and one that ended with a jury trial clearing UC 84 of excessive force claims.

Before the end of the year, a New York County Supreme Court justice ordered a new trial after ruling that prosecutors had violated their obligations under Brady to disclose the lawsuits. Prosecutors decided not to retry Fraser as part of a plea deal in which he copped to a disorderly conduct charge, a violation that in New York carries the same weight as a traffic ticket.

"Because the case hinged on the credibility of the witnesses, I find that the suppressed lawsuits were material and that [Fraser] was prejudiced by his inability to cross-examine the officers about instances of misconduct," Justice Robert Stolz said in his ruling. "There was a reasonable probability that the suppressed impeachment evidence would have resulted in a different verdict."

When he first took Fraser's case to trial back in November 2015, Stewart told Law360 that the handful of cases he'd been told about, all of which ended in settlement with no finding of liability, would do little to move the needle in his client's favor at trial.

With more, however, he suggested that things might have been different.

"Different attorneys will go after cops with single allegations or even two allegations. I always feel like you need a little bit more," he said.

The overturning of Fraser's conviction paved the way for his civil suit in federal court. His attorneys centered the case on eight specific civil cases — four against UC 84 and four against Deltoro alleging that they had fabricated evidence in order to arrest people without probable cause — to show that the Brady violation doomed Fraser's prospects of being acquitted of his criminal charges.

How Many Times Fraser's Arresting Officers Were Sued
Collectively, members of the NYPD field team who arrested Fraser had been named in at least 38 civil suits on allegations including false arrests, illegal strip searches, excessive force use and malicious prosecution by the time his criminal trial concluded. Several new cases have been filed since that time.
Date Filed Suit Officer Allegations Incident Date Outcome Outcome details Charges Disposition Description

Source: Court documents, NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board

Missing Or Unlawful Brady Policy

In addition to more standard claims under the federal statute giving individuals the right to sue state government employees for damages over civil rights violations, Fraser's attorneys used a narrow legal theory known as the Monell doctrine to hold New York City accountable for its lack of Brady policies.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Monell v. Department of Social Services from 1978 allows plaintiffs in certain states, including New York, to sue municipalities for damages over civil rights violations. To win, plaintiffs must show that the violations were the result of specific policies, rather than isolated incidents.

During Fraser's civil trial, Judge Colleen McMahon said the Monell claims were particularly strong, according to a transcript.

"I have never seen Monell evidence like this. Never," she said from the bench. "I've been doing this for 22 years."

Relying on confidential training material used by the NYPD's Police Academy, Fraser's attorneys were able to prove to the jury that the department lacked any written policy addressing Brady obligations until at least 2014.

By the time Fraser was tried in criminal court the following November, the only guidance the department provided was to teach officers to disclose exculpatory evidence, but not impeaching evidence such as civil lawsuits. It wasn't until 2017 that the NYPD's legal bureau published a department-wide notice to officers that they had a duty to turn over such information.

Katie Flaherty, an attorney who was responsible for training NYPD officers about their Brady obligations, testified at Fraser's civil trial that, at the time of Fraser's criminal prosecution, the department's legal bureau had a unit that monitored civil lawsuits against officers. Despite that, the jury later found that the department failed to disclose information on the suits against Fraser's arresting officers to the Manhattan District Attorney's office for prosecutors to pass along to his defense lawyer.

An NYPD legal bulletin and training materials uncovered during the case (DEF 3584 to DEF 3587 NYPD Legal Bureau bulletin on cross-examination, DEF 10344 to DEF 10382 on collecting and processing evidence, DEF 14806 to DEF 14860 on court appearances).

"All they had to do to ensure that that lawsuit information was disclosed under Brady was to notify the DA's office that they had this database, and they would share the information," Rudin said. "The NYPD was deliberately indifferent to whether the Brady disclosure occurred at all."

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, which represented the city and the officers, said in an email that since Fraser's trial the NYPD has "refined" its Brady training to officers.

"We disagree with the jury's verdict but respect it," Paolucci said.

Cornell of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor's Office said her office has expanded its disclosure procedures "in numerous ways" since the time of Fraser's prosecution. For instance, it created a compliance unit that handles Brady matters and regularly communicates with counterparts in the other law enforcement agencies, including the NYPD, the state police, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the city's prosecutorial offices, "to ensure timely disclosures."

"We continue to conduct regular trainings for support staff and attorneys to reiterate the importance of timely disclosures," she said.

Jawaun Fraser is represented by Joel B. Rudin and David E. Rudin of the Law Offices of Joel B. Rudin PC and Michael L. Bloch, Benjamin D. White and Cristina Alvarez of Bloch & White LLP.

The City of New York and the individual officers are represented by assistant corporation counsel Brian C. Francolla and Caroline McGuire.

The case is Jawaun Fraser v. City of New York et al., case number 20-cv-4926, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll. Graphics by Ben Jay.

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