NYC DA drops most looting cases from summer 2020 riots, prioritizing Trump probe: report

Backlash grows over defund the police movement in New York City

Fox News correspondent Bryan Llenas has the details from Queens, NY on ‘America Reports’

New York City district attorneys in Manhattan and the Bronx have dropped looting charges against hundreds of people arrested and charged during last summer’s demonstrations that became a nearly nightly occurrence in the weeks after George Floyd’s death, according to a report. 

Though many suspects were captured pillaging stores on surveillance footage – and others more brazenly bragged about looting in videos shared on social media – Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. hasn’t moved forward with prosecuting cases after more than 485 arrests were made during the looting that swept across the borough in early June. 

Vance Jr., whose office has instead been prioritizing preparing a case against the Trump Organization on allegations of tax, loan and insurance fraud, has dropped 222 of those looting cases, WNBC reported. There have been 73 convictions for lesser counts like trespassing which do not warrant jail time, NYPD data shows; 128 cases remain open and another 40 involving juveniles were sent to family court. 

“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,” former NYPD Chief of Patrol Wilbur Chapman told WNBC, referencing the district attorney’s office. “It allowed people who committed crimes to go scot free.”

Crowds – with officers and emergency services crews following behind them – engaged in what authorities have called planned property damage at the storefronts for upscale designers in Manhattan, and at one point, people were even seen engaging in a “looting dance party” on the streets of SoHo. 

But the damage also reached many locally owned stores in the Bronx, where at least 118 arrests were made in early June 2020. Yet, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark has since dismissed 73 of those cases. There have been 19 convictions for mostly lesser counts and eighteen cases remain open. 

Jessica Betancourt, the owner of an eyeglasses store which was looted along Burnside Avenue, said those numbers as “disgusting.” Also the vice president of a local merchants association in the Bronx, she described to WNBC being “in total shock that everything is being brushed off to the side.”

“They could do it again because they know they won’t get the right punishment,” Betancourt said.

People run out of a smoke shop with smoking instruments after breaking in as police arrive on Monday, June 1, 2020, in New York City. 
(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Fox News has reached out to the offices of Vance and Clark for comment. 

Sources within the district attorneys’ offices told WNBC that courts being closed during the coronavirus pandemic created a large backlog of cases – and, in some cases, the evidence was not strong enough for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  

“We had to analyze each case individually and see if, in fact, we could prove the right person had committed the crime,” NYPD Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias said.

He also said that follow-up investigations into looting were tedious and often involved tracking down either photo evidence or stolen property. He said investigators needed to analyze each case individually to see if they could prove the right person committed the crime. 

Those probes mirror the ones carried out by the FBI in the wake of the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but unlike in New York, federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia are moving forward with those cases. 

In the 150 days since Jan. 6, approximately 465 individuals were arrested on charges related to the Capitol breach, including over 130 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, the Justice Department said. Their investigation remains ongoing. 

In an internal memo obtained by WNBC, Vance said there were over 600 commercial burglary arrests and over 3,500 unindicted felony cases in the pipeline waiting to move forward in the courts that have been put on hold due to the pandemic. Before dropping one case in connection to looting, Vance directed his staff 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.”

“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,” Vance wrote, telling prosecutors to keep “an eye towards rehabilitation” and the “continued goal to achieve consistency and equitable treatment in these cases.”

Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the New York State Unified Court System, said that decisions to dismiss cases were primarily made by the district attorneys. He explained that “an application must be made by the district attorney or, as they have done with hundreds of DATs (desk appearance tickets), decline to prosecute them.” 

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