NY1 Exclusive: Charges Dropped Against Man In Controversial Lucky Bag Case
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NY1 has learned that charges have been dropped against a man arrested for picking up a bag police planted on the subway, but the NYPD says it will not suspend its controversial Lucky Bag sting operation.
The sting operation is set to arrest people who take property that seems to have been abandoned or forgotten.
Aquarius Cheers was arrested in February after he picked up a bag of electronics police had planted on the subway. Police said he was trying to steal the bag, but on Thursday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office dropped the case, saying there was insufficient evidence.
"What's important today is the district attorney recognized and stated in court that the type of circumstances that have led to these 'lucky bag' arrests are not circumstances that constitute a crime," said Chris Dunn of the Civil Liberties Union.
Cheers was arrested after he and his partner Kia Graves saw what they thought was an abandoned Verizon bag. When the train came, they say they grabbed it with the intention of trying to find the owner. Cheers says he saw a police officer nearby, but in the rush to catch the train he didn't think to give him the bag.
"I was going to look for a receipt with a credit card number and then take it back to the store,” said Cheers.
But police said not giving the bag to the nearby officer amounted to theft. At the time of the arrest, Cheers agreed to a plea that was not an admission of guilt, and that meant the case would be dropped after six months.
"It's ridiculous,” said Cheers. “There's two wars going on: the war on terror; the war on drugs. There’s all these wars and you're arresting people in the train station for nothing basically. I think it's utterly ridiculous."
Dunn looked into the case after it aired on NY1. He lobbied prosecutors to dismiss the case entirely. In court Thursday, an assistant district attorney did just that.
Dunn said the fact that Cheers got onto the subway with the bag of electronics though a police officer was standing nearby does not show he would not have returned the property on his own.
"The district attorney's office recognized and stated in court that the type of circumstances that have led to these lucky bag arrests, in fact, are not circumstances that constitute a crime,” said Dunn.
The D.A.'s office would only say that they review every arrest and they decide how to proceed based on the facts of each particular case.
The NYPD would not comment on the Cheers case this morning, but they have repeatedly defended Operation Lucky Bag as a successful tool to catch career criminals, saying 220 people were arrested as a result of the sting last year.
The chief NYPD spokesman, Paul Browne, told NY1 that the operation is ongoing. However, a ranking member of the NYPD Transit Bureau said the operation was suspended a month ago because of litigation.