Dozens of activists marched in lower Manhattan and unfurled a banner off the High Line park on November 30 to support and demand justice for a young woman who says she was raped while in handcuffs by two NYPD officers in Brooklyn earlier this year.
Despite the recent media attention on various influential and powerful men being called out for sexual assault and harassment, this recent case of NYPD officers allegedly raping a teenager in custody has largely remained a local story.
The woman, who calls herself Anna Chambers on social media, hasn’t attended any of the protests, but has expressed support and gratitude on social media. Her lawyer, Michael David, is confident that the cops will be found guilty, but in a city where police have literally killed people on camera and gotten away with it, it’s hard to know what will happen with this case.
“I can’t conceivably see any jury not convicting these cops,” David said. “Under these circumstances, they have to be convicted. There’s overwhelming evidence [against them].”
According to Chambers’ lawyer, it was around 8 p.m. on September 15 when Edward Martins and Richard Hall, two plain clothes cops with the Brooklyn South Narcotics unit, pulled over a car in Brooklyn’s Calvert Vaux Park containing then-18-year-old Anna Chambers and two male friends. The officers began searching them for drugs, at one point even demanding Chambers lift up her shirt. The cops claim they found a small amount of weed and a few Klonopin pills on her. According to David, the police then ordered Chambers out of the car, handcuffed her, and put her into the backseat of their black, unmarked Dodge van.
Then, according to prosecutor Frank DeGaetano, as the cops drove off with Chambers, Martins used his cellphone, while blocking his number, to call her two male friends and told them not to follow the van. After being told she was being taken to the nearby 60th precinct, David said the cops instead drove Chambers to a nearby Chipotle parking lot and raped her. She was handcuffed the entire time.
About 45 minutes after being handcuffed, the cops shoved her out of the van near the 60th precinct, according to David. Chambers then contacted her mother, who took her to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, Brooklyn. While she was in the hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam, commonly known as a rape kit, a group of more than nine NYPD officers came to intimidate and gaslight Chambers and her mother. David said that one officer even spoke to Chambers’ mother in her native Russian, insisting that she often filed complaints against police and that the men who raped her weren’t actual cops.
Despite this intimidation, Chambers proceeded with the rape kit, and the genetic material recovered from Chambers during the medical exam matched Martins and Hall’s DNA. After their names and faces were withheld for some time, the two cops were eventually exposed, pleaded not guilty to a 50-count indictment, were released on bail, and resigned from their jobs in early November. They admit to having sex with Chambers while on the job, but insist that it was consensual.
“This whole ‘consensual’ thing is just ridiculous,” David said. “When you’re under arrest and you’re handcuffed, you’re put into a police minivan and you’re with two officers over 6-feet tall and over 200 pounds, there can’t be consent. Based on that power dynamic, you cannot have consent under those circumstances.”
In an attempt to undermine Chambers’s credibility, the lawyers for the two cops also wrote a letter to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, in which they pointed to “provocative ‘selfies’” on her social media accounts and the fact that she has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city.
Chambers’ supporters at the march expressed disgust at the cops’ almost-cliche rapist apologetics and attempts to “slut-shame” her.
“We are not going to let the continuing press coverage on this be about the photos on Anna’s Instagram, and it’s not about what she may or may not have been wearing at the time,” said Jun, an activist with Hoods4Justice, who helped organize the march. “It’s about never letting this happen again and about being out in the street and being present to show support and solidarity for someone who went through a horrible trauma.”
The first march in support of Chambers happened on October 17 in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The protesters rallied in Calvert Vaux Park, marched around the neighborhood, and were apparently later denied entry into a local community meeting regarding the incident. During the second and most recent march on November 30, protesters gathered in Washington Square Park in Manhattan and started with facts on police sexual violence and speeches, including one by Victoria Davis, the sister of Delrawn Small who was killed by an off-duty NYPD officer last year.
The NYPD soon arrived in large numbers to try to break up the protest, threatening to arrest the activists and pushing them onto the sidewalk. The march continued with the protesters chanting, blocking traffic, and, at one point, taking over the High Line and unfurling a banner from it reading “NYPD cops E. Martin & R. Hall Are Rapists.” Despite police repression, the march ended with no arrests, and Chambers expressed her gratitude for the support.
Statistics on sexual violence by police are hard to come by, but a 2011 Cato Institute study found that more than 9 percent of reported police misconduct involved sexual abuse, making it the second-most reported form of police misconduct after the use of excessive force. The Associated Press, in their year-long 2015 investigation of sexual misconduct by cops, found over 1,000 officers who lost their jobs over a six-year period for rape, sodomy and sexual assault.
This number was also acknowledged as an undercount since states like California and New York have no statewide system to decertify officers for sexual misconduct. Indeed, it isn’t even illegal in New York City for cops to have sex with people in their custody, a problem that a local Brooklyn politician is now trying to solve precisely because of this case.
Chambers’s supporters ultimately want the two cops to be held accountable, for her to get the full amount she’s requested in her civil suit against the city, and for an end to police violence against women and gender nonconforming people.
“Her life is ruined, and we don’t know how many others there are.” David said. “We want as much public awareness as we can about police sexual misconduct so people can be aware of it and people can report it. And we want it to stop. We don’t want any more victims like Anna Chambers again.”