The judge suggested that Myers’ brush with the law had its roots in the so-called lucky bag operation that the NYPD began in 2006 to deter thefts of wallets, shopping bags, smartphones and other valuables in the subways.
A typical scenario was for a plainclothes officer to place a handbag with cash on a train platform and briefly look or step away. Anyone who took the bag, then passed up chances to return it to the undercover cop or to report it to a uniformed officer posted nearby could be locked up.
At the time, police credited the subway operation with driving down crime there.
Authorities began using “bait cars” about six years ago in the Bronx to combat a chronic problem with car thefts and break-ins in working-class neighborhoods. In most cases, police plant property — an iPad, a pack of cigarettes — in plain sight as the bait for thieves but make sure the car is locked so that a suspect would have to take the extra step of breaking in before being arrested.
But the strategy used in the Myers case “was certainly the most extreme version of the operation that we’ve seen,” said her attorney, Ann Mauer. According to court papers and to Myers’ account, she and her daughter Kenya, then 15 years old, were sitting on the stoop of their building when the sting unfolded.
The summer scene was interrupted by a bit of theater staged by police: A dark car raced down the block before stopping. Another vehicle carrying plainclothes officers wasn’t far behind. When the driver got out and ran, the officers gave chase, yelling, “Stop! Police!” her suit says.
Myers’ daughter, seeing that the driver left the car door open, went over and peered inside to see personal items that included what looked like a bundle of cash — in reality, a dollar bill wrapped around pieces of newspaper. The girl had called her mother over when another set of police officers suddenly pulled up in a van and forced them to the ground, according to Myers’ account.
“Get on the floor? For what?” Myers recalled telling the officers.
The officers took them into custody, even though they never touched anything inside the car, the suit says. While entering a stationhouse in handcuffs, Myers spotted the driver of the car standing outside, smoking a cigarette. It dawned on her that he was an undercover with a starring role in the sting — a suspicion supported by the court ruling.
The girl ultimately wasn’t charged. But her mother spent more than two years fighting charges of petty larceny and possession of stolen property.
A spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney’s office conceded that the bait car had been left unlocked and said prosecutors would not appeal the judge’s ruling. He declined to comment further.