NYPD officer files lawsuit over “courtesy cards,” says he’s being punished for not honoring them


NECK: Serious assault at 1632 Undercliff Ave. Bronx, NY Wednesday February 28, 2018 (Howard Simmons/New York Daily News.)

Rocco Parascandola
New York Daily News

A Staten Island cop’s explosive lawsuit pulls back the curtain on an open secret in the NYPD — courtesy cards police give to family and friends so they can get out of a jam when they end up on the wrong side of the law.

Officer Mathew Bianchi said he was threatened by union officials, precinct supervisors and even Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, then transferred to nighttime patrol — all because he gave tickets to reckless drivers who tried to dodge punishment by flashing their courtesy cards.

Bianchi said that because he was expected to write five summonses a day while on traffic patrol, people without courtesy cards were more likely to be ticketed.

“There are quotas, so if I let someone go, then I’ve got to write someone else,” Bianchi explained to the Daily News. “So the next guy who doesn’t have a card is getting a ticket.

“It’s just not fair. It’s something I feel very strongly about.”

The NYPD has long denied the existence of any enforcement quotas.

Courtesy cards — laminated cards distributed yearly by the five police unions — don’t come with any instructions or guidelines. Officers of all ranks typically give them to family and friends with the understanding that if they get pulled over while driving, the card will save them from a ticket.

Not honoring the cards is considered a no-no in NYPD culture.

Bianchi, whose lawyer filed the suit Saturday in Manhattan Federal Court, says the practice is so ingrained officers are told about the cards — and what to do if shown one — when they first hit the streets.

His claims come more than a decade after the NYPD was rocked by a controversy in which 16 cops were indicted and more than 500 from all corners of the city were investigated for fixing traffic tickets. Those convicted in the case left the police force.

Many caught up in the scandal probed by a Bronx grand jury in 2011 were Police Benevolent Association delegates. Some of the officers were accused of taking bribes or accepting fancy meals or gifts in return for fixing traffic tickets. More than 200 officers faced departmental charges, which led many to lose vacation pay or face other punishment short of being fired.

That scandal might as well have never happened, said Bianchi — who believes the use of the courtesy cards has supplanted the bribes and gifts exposed in the Bronx probe.

“This is the solution to that scandal,” he said of the courtesy card system. “There’s no ticket to fix if the summonses don’t get written. So the PBA and the delegates and the bosses on the job — they’ll tell you not to write them if someone shows you a card.”

Bianchi admits he has probably honored the cards 95% of the time since joining the NYPD in 2015 and that his wife and father have cards from him.

As a matter of practice, Bianchi said, he uses his discretion, as cops are allowed to do, and will sometimes cut a driver a break whether they have a card or not.

But after dealing with enough repeat traffic offenders who flash their courtesy cards expecting not to get a ticket — including one clearly reckless driver who couldn’t even be bothered showing her identification — Bianchi decided he would be less forgiving.

And with good reason, said his lawyer, John Scola.

‘’Many of these people are driving recklessly again and again,” Scola said. “They’re a danger to everyone else on the road.

“But rather than protect the community from these recidivist offenders, the NYPD chose to retaliate against my client and derail his career.”

Bianchi — who until recently went by the name Mathew Ramos; he changed his last name to honor his father — was in 2017 assigned to a traffic patrol unit at the 123rd Precinct in southern Staten Island when he pulled over a woman he caught speeding through a red light.

The woman showed him a courtesy card from the Police Benevolent Association. Nonetheless, Bianchi issued her a summons for speeding and gave her a warning about going through the red light.

Even though she got a break on the red light violation, the woman still complained.

Anthony Cassano, a PBA union delegate, sought out Bianchi and told him he was wrong not to honor the card, the lawsuit says.

A PBA board member, Albert Acierno, followed up the next month and advised Bianchi that the union wouldn’t have his back if he got into hot water for continuing to write tickets for drivers with courtesy cards.

“You have to do it,” Acierno said, according to the suit. “We are the ones who protect you if you need it.”

Acierno also allegedly threatened to call a chief and get Bianchi removed from the traffic unit.

Worried, Bianchi filed an anonymous complaint with the city Department of Investigation. He soon backed out of the Department of Investigation complaint when, he said, he was told he had to be on the record — a claim the department denies.

Bianchi said he then filed a complaint with the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau. Bianchi said IAB never got back to him, and that the harassment continued.

A sergeant told Bianchi his body-worn camera footage was being scrutinized whenever he wrote a summons, the suit says.

Bianchi said his precinct commander at the time, Capt. Timothy Wilson, warned that he could get bounced out of the traffic unit because he once ticketed an NYPD chief’s friend, and that from then on he needed to ask each driver he stopped if they had a courtesy card.

“I told him I didn’t agree with the card policy,” Bianchi said. “He said, ‘Is it better to be right or better to be on patrol?’”

Even when he honored a courtesy card, Bianchi said, his actions were reviewed. His lawsuit says Wilson reviewed his body-worn camera footage when he ticketed the father of a state trooper. The father, it turned out, never showed a card to Bianchi, but did tell his son, who called 1 Police Plaza to complain.

By the end of 2019, the suit says, Bianchi was ridiculed on a Facebook page for cops.

The one cop named in the suit as a defendant, Capt. Andrey Smirnov, took the reins of the 123rd Precinct in September 2020 and was told by an underling that Bianchi had a “history of writing over cards” that “needs to be handled,” the lawsuit says.

For more than a year after that, the suit says, Bianchi got pushback from supervisors when he wrote summonses for card holders, several of whom were related to cops.

His lawsuit cites several instances where his NYPD colleagues complained about his ticket-writing.

One woman called her husband, a retired cop, who then called Bianchi, telling him “watch what happens if you write this [ticket].”

Bianchi says he reluctantly didn’t issue a summons in that case — but he still got a second call from the woman’s son, Officer Christopher Kirschner, an officer in Staten Island’s 121st Precinct.

“Watch what happens if I stop someone you know,” Kirschner said, according to the suit.

Last Aug. 31, Bianchi wrote a ticket to a woman who was friends with NYPD Chief of Department Maddrey, who at the time was the department’s chief of patrol.

The woman never mentioned to Bianchi that she knew Maddrey, and the stop was “unremarkable,” the lawsuit says.

But Bianchi was later warned by a lieutenant that the stop “pissed off someone very high up,” and that Maddrey had called Smirnov to demand that Bianchi be punished.

Days later, on Sept. 3, Bianchi was transferred to regular patrol, on the four-to-midnight shift, the lawsuit says.

“In my department, these situations are common,” Bianchi wrote of the incident in a complaint to the Internal Affairs Bureau, according to the suit. “I’m not the first and won’t be the last.”

The complaint is being investigated, Bianchi said an IAB investigator told him. Bianchi said he later learned Smirnov was livid and that he was not getting off patrol.

A source close to Maddrey said he does not remember calling Smirnov to demand Bianchi’s punishment.

Smirnov, Cassano, Acierno, Wilson and Kirschner also did not respond to requests for comment. Christopher Monahan, who is Smirnov and Wilson’s union representative, had no comment.

A spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association would not answer questions about the alleged actions of Cassano and Acierno. In a statement, the PBA spokesman noted the NYPD, not the union, sets “policies regarding the way that police officers perform their duties.”

“Each police officer determines how to exercise that discretion based on the specifics of each case,” the spokesman added.

The NYPD wouldn’t answer any questions about the cards or Bianchi’s IAB complaints, and said it would review the suit when served.

©2023 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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