Community Members Gathered Calling on Police Accountability for the Murder of 23-year-old Shantel Davis
Fatal Shooting Detective Sued In Six Cases
The New York City police detective who fatally shot a Brooklyn woman has been a defendant in six federal civil-rights lawsuits, most of them accusations of illegal searches and arrests, according to court records.
The city has settled four of the lawsuits involving Detective Phillip Atkins, who shot and killed 23-year-old Shantel Davis on Thursday during what police described as a chaotic struggle in a moving car. The shooting was under investigation Friday, and Detective Atkins isn’t accused of wrongdoing.
Ms. Davis had been driving erratically and hit a minivan when the detective and another officer approached her car. Police said she attempted to flee by putting the car in reverse with Detective Atkins inside. Ms. Davis, who had an extensive criminal record, was shot once in the chest as the pair wrestled over the gear shift, police said.
Detective Atkins couldn’t be reached for comment, and no one answered the door at his Long Island home.
Even before the incident in East Flatbush, several residents said the 44-year-old narcotics detective was a familiar presence in the neighborhood, known for his aggressive pursuit of drug arrests.
Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, a frequent critic of police, said Friday the detective “carries an unfavorable reputation in the community.”
Assigned to the Brooklyn South Narcotics unit, Detective Atkins has logged 800 arrests since joining the force in 2000, said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. He said he wasn’t surprised that an “active” and “dedicated” officer who encounters hundreds of suspected drug dealers every year would attract lawsuits. “Given the set of facts and circumstances here, I think the detective’s actions [in the shooting] were appropriate and justified,” Mr. Palladino said.
Neighbors described Detective Atkins as a native of Trinidad and a well-liked married father of two who rarely speaks about his job.
Ms. Davis was the fifth person shot and killed by New York City police this year, a number on par with the recent average of about 10 fatal shootings a year.
She was behind the wheel of a Toyota Camry that had been stolen during a June 5 carjacking of a 58-year-old woman not far from the crash scene, said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.
Hours before her driving caught the attention of Detective Atkins and set in motion the events that culminated in her death, she used a friend’s Internet connection to look up a GED class. “She was trying to change,” said Kelvia Joseph, 24.
Ms. Davis also used the computer to check when she was due in court for a hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court Friday.
Ms. Davis was free on $25,000 bail after being arrested, along with two men, in an April 2011 home-invasion robbery in which a Brooklyn man was shot four times. Her lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment.
Records show that the detective has been a defendant in six federal lawsuits. A law-enforcement official said he also is the subject of a number of misconduct complaints lodged with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. An agency spokeswoman said the records aren’t public, and the disposition of the complaints couldn’t be determined.
Mr. Browne declined to comment on the detective’s history.
In the case that prompted the largest known settlement, Vincent Burgess said he was waiting in a Brooklyn lobby in March 2003 when Detective Atkins hit him with a walkie-talkie and arrested him without cause. Charges of obstruction of justice, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana were later dropped.
The city settled the case for $50,000 in June 2005. “I think he’s a bully,” said Mr. Burgess, now 29.
Muriel Goode-Trufant, special federal litigation chief for the city Law Department, said: “It’s critical to remember that settlement is not an admission of liability. Conclusions concerning an officer’s reputation should not be based on the fact of prior settlements, especially when a wide range of factors determines settlement decisions.”
The city settled another false-arrest lawsuit in March for $20,000, although the complaint doesn’t spell out Detective Atkins’s alleged role in that case.
The owner of a Brooklyn business received a $15,000 settlement in 2008 after claiming Detective Atkins and others illegally searched his business and car, records show.
Margaret Ferguson, then 39, lost her job after Detective Atkins arrested her in July 2007 for possession of marijuana, said her attorney. The charges were later dropped, and the case was settled for an unspecified amount. The two other lawsuits are pending, records show.
Join The Silent March to End Stop and Frisk
Join Civil Rights, Faith, Labor and Community groups in a silent march against NYC’s “Stop and Frisk” Policy! On Father’s Day, let’s stand together to show that New Yorkers refuse to let our children be victimized by racial profiling.
Sunday, June 17th – march begins at 3 pm
- Enter the assembly area from the west or from the north, NOT from the east!
- You can begin gathering as early as 1pm, but remember – the march starts at 3 pm!
- Closest subway stops: Cathedral Parkway (110 St) on the B and C trains, Central Park North (110 St.) on the 2 and 3 trains.
- Please check subway schedules for any changes.
- Contingents are being assigned locations within the assembly area. Please check back here in a few days for details.
- The march begins at 110th St. and Fifth Ave.
- We will march south on Fifth Ave. to 78th Street.
- Mayor Bloomberg’s mansion is on 79th St., just east of Fifth Ave