One Police Plaza

The Saga of Cyress Smith

January 21, 2019

Sgt. Cyress Smith joined the NYPD on April 15, 1997. Five years later, he began filing complaints and lawsuits claiming racial discrimination that continue to this day.

He’s won some and lost some. A win came in 2004 after, he says, Eric Adams, then a police captain and now the Brooklyn Borough president, helped Smith join a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by the Latino Officers Association. Smith was awarded $84,000. Adams did not respond to a call from NYPD Confidential.

Smith also seeks out the media for coverage of himself, which is unusual in the NYPD culture. Sympathetic stories about his battles with the department have appeared in the Daily News and The New York Times.

Needless to say, the police bureaucracy does not view him benevolently. He works at Harlem Viper Unit #20, monitoring cops on restricted duty or with poor disciplinary histories whom the NYPD considers low performers.

So is Smith a victim or a malcontent? Or both? It’s hard to say. A top department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “A guy may be convinced he is right but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth.”

Smith’s troubles — and his complaints — began in 2002 after he was assigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau’s Group 11. “I feel I am being disparately treated because of my race and color,” he told the State Division of Human Rights after he received a below-average evaluation from a “Caucasian” superior, as Smith described him. “I am black. … I charge him with an unlawful discriminatory practice … by treating me disparately because of my race and color.”

Smith also cited as discriminatory the removal of his promotion notice to detective from the Group 11 bulletin board. The promotion itself was suspect, he claimed, because it represented “a subtle and clever maneuver by the department to pacify me and divert attention from the merits and seriousness of my allegations.”

Smith also cited the omission of his subsequent promotion to sergeant from Spring 3100, the department’s in-house magazine because, he said, “I am black.” After years of appeals, Smith discontinued that complaint.

After the 9/11 attacks, he was transferred to the Staten Island landfill, where he says he served 12-hour shifts and became ill with asthma and sleep apnea. His duty captain claimed he was malingering, he says.

In 2006, he was reassigned to the Performance Monitoring Unit, which tracks low-performing cops. Things appeared to look up for him with Bill Bratton’s appointment as commissioner in 2014. That January he wrote Bratton, suggesting that police officers hand out “contact cards” to people they had stopped to question or search.

“Can you give me a call when you get a chance? The PC asked me to reach out to you to discuss the letter you sent him back in January,” current Commissioner Jim O’Neill wrote to Smith. Indeed, contact cards have become a part of the NYPD neighborhood policing initiative. Smith says he was never given credit for the idea. 

In 2015, he was placed on restrictive duty, a direct result, he says of his 9/11 landfill duty. The department’s medical board denied his application for a line-of-duty injury.

Then, John Cosgrove became his commanding officer and urged Smith to transfer. “If not, I won’t go easy on you,” Smith says Cosgrove told him.

In a memo to First Deputy Commissioner Ben Tucker on March 14, 2016, Smith wrote that Cosgrove was “motivated in part by racial intolerance … towards black members of the service.”

Smith was subsequently penalized for not wearing a necktie during a tour of duty. He was given a command discipline for discourtesy to Lt. Candace Sullivan after being accused — falsely, he says — of not informing his superior of a tour change to keep a doctor’s appointment.

He appealed a rating of “highly competent” on his annual evaluation, noting that five other sergeants in his unit were rated “above highly competent.” He also filed a complaint with the deputy commissioner of equal employment against PMU supervisors for giving him low evaluations.

Most recently, he charged that the head of his Viper unit, Capt. Vincent Salerno, sexually harassed him. Salerno was recently promoted to deputy inspector. Cosgrove was recently promoted to deputy chief. Both declined to speak to NYPD Confidential through a department spokesman, citing pending litigation.

Smith, meanwhile, filed another discrimination lawsuit in federal court. It seeks half a million dollars.


Copyright © 2019 Leonard Levitt