New York City

Report: Lawyers in city-funded group were in anti-cop video

January 30, 2015 By Colleen Long Associated Press
Ferguson protests went on across the country, mourning for Michael Brown. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File
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Two lawyers at a legal defense agency that receives $20 million in city funding participated in a music video that advocated the killing of police officers, city investigators said Thursday.

The video called “Hands Up” includes images of guns held to a police officer’s head and lyrics that say “a cop got to get killed.” Two lawyers with the Bronx Defenders appear in the video, and scenes were filmed inside the nonprofit’s offices. The producers also listed the agency as a sponsor.

“I love the song!” one of the attorneys, Ryan Napoli, wrote in an email to the producers, according to the city Department of Investigation. “I wonder if we can edit out the word (expletive) but that can be dealt with later.”

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The song included references to Sean Bell and Michael Brown, two unarmed civilians killed by police. “What happened to the dream? Time to start killing these coppers,” the lyrics say.

The video went online in December, two weeks before two NYPD police officers were killed by a mentally disturbed man who vowed online to put “wings on pigs” in retaliation for the deaths of black men by police.

The Bronx agency, which provides some of the city’s neediest clients with legal help, said in a statement that it hadn’t seen the finished video before it was published and had asked to be removed as a sponsor.

Department of Investigation head Mark Peters said Thursday that the Bronx Defenders director, Robin Steinberg, authorized participation in the video without knowing the details and failed to discipline the staff after learning of the conduct. She didn’t return a message seeking comment.

The attorneys involved — Napoli and Kumar Rao — also didn’t return messages left by The Associated Press.

A statement posted on the Bronx Defender’s website said the agency “abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance. We have always been an organization that is committed to preserving life, dignity and respect for all people.”

The statement said the Bronx Defenders didn’t approve the video and never saw it before it was published online. “We deeply regret any involvement with this video,” the statement reads.

Both Napoli and Rao told investigators they felt the lyrics needed to be edited and were given assurances by the producer that they would be able to edit the video before publication.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the findings “deeply disturbing,”

“Any endorsement of violence against police officers is completely unacceptable and will absolutely not be tolerated,” he said. His administration sent a letter to the agency demanding a plan of action by Wednesday.

“The actions of your employees and the executive director have put in jeopardy the effectiveness of the services that they are obliged to deliver to indigent clients in this city,” according to the letter.

The nonprofit Bronx Defenders has been in business for 17 years, has a staff of 250 and handles about 35,000 cases annually, according to its website.

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