The NYPD sent a paid informant to surveil, befriend and ultimately drive a Black Lives Matter protester to attack a police van last month, according to a new federal complaint unsealed on Wednesday.
The civilian informant — identified in the filing as the NYPD’s “confidential source” — was involved in the arrest of Jeremy Trapp, a 24-year-old Brooklyn man accused of sabotaging an NYPD vehicle.
“At best, Mr. Trapp is unsophisticated and easily susceptible,” his defense attorney, Ashley Burrell, said during his arraignment on Wednesday afternoon.
According to federal prosecutors, Trapp met the NYPD informant outside Brooklyn Criminal Court on July 13th, as protesters gathered to demand the release of individuals arrested during a demonstration in Bay Ridge.
Trapp told the source that he thought cops were racist, that he wanted to harm police, and that he was previously involved in burning an NYPD vehicle, according to the complaint. After exchanging phone numbers, the two arranged to meet in the informant’s car.
During their first meeting, the 24-year-old allegedly told the informant that he wanted to burn down the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge so that “white supremacists” wouldn’t be able to get from Staten Island to Brooklyn. The following day, the complaint states, the informant drove Trapp to the bridge to take photographs.
On July 17th, the informant again picked up Trapp from his mother’s home. They drove to Sunset Park, where they found an unattended NYPD van. Trapp, using a scissor-like tool, allegedly crawled under the vehicle and cut part of the brake lines, while the informant acted as a “look out.
The informant then drove Trapp to City Hall, where they walked around the protest encampment, according to the complaint. Trapp was arrested shortly after on charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. He was released by the Brooklyn District Attorney on his own recognizance.
The confirmation of the NYPD’s use of a paid informant came on Wednesday, when federal prosecutors brought their own charges against Trapp for the alleged brake-cutting incident.
It’s unclear how many other paid informants the NYPD may have embedded in recent protests against police brutality. A spokesperson for the department did not respond to Gothamist’s inquiries.
The disclosure raised immediate objections from both activists and civil rights attorneys, who recalled the department’s controversial use of the tactic to surveil Muslims in the wake of 9/11.
“It’s troubling,” said Martin Stolar, a civil rights attorney who’s spent nearly five decades challenging NYPD surveillance overreach. “It sounds like they put the informant to work circulating among the protesters. We don’t know how far back it extends, how long they had this guy in play.”
The NYPD’s paid informants have previously faced scrutiny for their role in pushing their targets to commit or discuss crimes. A former NYPD informant told the Associated Press that he was paid $1,000 to “bait” his Muslim associates into making incriminating statements. In another high-profile case, a paid NYPD informant allegedly spent months plying Jose Pimentel with food and marijuana, enticing the apparently unstable man to build a bomb.
“The way they stay on the payroll is turning over criminals, so they have an incentive to create crime,” Stolar told Gothamist. “They’re working for money. They’re not working for justice.”
During the arraignment on Wednesday, the federal judge sided with prosecutors, ordering Trapp be held without bail. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.