Lawyers from the Bronx Defenders knew there were cop killing lyrics involved before they agreed to appear in an Eric Garner tribute called “Hands Up.”
A Department of Investigation investigation released Thursday found two attorneys, Kumar Rao and Ryan Napoli, knew about the violent lyrics when they agreed to participate in the video with rappers Uncle Murda, Maino and Jay Watts.
The investigation also found Executive Director Robin Steinberg didn’t review the song’s lyrics before authorizing the organization’s participation, and that she did not discipline her staff after the video was posted and made “misleading statements” toward city investigators that minimized Bronx Defenders’ involvement.
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The music video, released on YouTube and other sites on Dec. 3, depicts the killing of a white police officer by two black men. Lyrics include “for Mike Brown and Sean Bell, a cop got to get killed” and “time to start killing these coppers.”
“I love the song!” Napoli wrote to a Bronx Defenders employee whose boyfriend was involved with the project. “I’m not sure how [Steinberg] will feel. I wonder if we can edit out the word ‘c***sucker,’ but this is a detail that can be dealt with later.”
Rao and Napoli said during interviews with investigators they believed Bronx Defenders would work with the artists to edit offense lyrics before the song was released.
Steinberg told investigators she didn’t know anything about lyrics on killing police officers. Bronx Defenders receives about $20 million a year from the city; it offers legal services to 35,000 clients a year. Steinberg said no Bronx Defenders money went toward the project, but Rao and Napoli’s salaries are funded by city contracts.
It was unclear in the report if Rao and Napoli corresponded about the video project during office hours or on personal time.
Steinberg did not return multiple calls or emails for comment on Thursday.
In a statement sent to Metro and posted on their website, the organization said: “The Bronx Defenders abhors the use of violence against the police under any circumstance. We have always been an organization that is committed to preserving life, dignity and respect for all people. The Bronx Defenders never approved the music video “Hands
Up”, and never saw it before it went online. We deeply regret any involvement with this video."
The Bronx Defender’s website displayed a copy of the message on Thursday. Both Rao and Napoli’s biographies were not on the site.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the findings “deeply disturbing” and said his office has “demanded Bronx Defenders take immediate action” or “the City will take all legal and contractual actions available to it.”
PBA President Pat Lynch called for the city to shut down Bronx Defenders and disbar the lawyers involved.