Serrano told the oldest girl to drop the ladder, and then he climbed up, squeezed in through the window, and pulled out his Smith & Wesson. He found three more children inside, barricaded in a room, armed with baseball bats. At the front of the apartment, a deranged man screamed and slammed his fists against the locked front door so hard that his knuckles were bleeding.
He reminded Serrano of the Rock—about five-eight, enormous muscles, no neck—and he appeared to be high on PCP. When he heard the crackle of Serrano’s police radio, he spun around. Seeing that he wasn’t armed, Serrano put away his gun and, with three other officers, tackled the man to the floor.
Later, he learned the backstory: The children’s families had been preparing for a party; the adults had gone out to get the food; this guy had stumbled into the wrong apartment and couldn’t figure out how to get out. Minus a few details, it was the sort of crazy incident that could happen any night of the week, would never make the newspapers, and would do nothing to help his numbers.
Serrano and a handful of other officers from the 4-0 began meeting to talk about their jobs, always in restaurants where they could be sure their supervisors wouldn’t walk in. In early 2012, four of them filed affidavits with their union protesting quotas. When their efforts led nowhere, Serrano started searching for an attorney. He estimates he spoke to about ten before the day last December when he walked into the Center for Constitutional Rights.
He met with Darius Charney, a lawyer for the CCR, and Jonathan C. Moore, a partner at Beldock Levine & Hoffman, who was working with him. They told Serrano about their lawsuit challenging the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk and Moore asked if he would be willing to testify. Serrano wasn’t sure. He hadn’t come here looking to be a witness in someone else’s lawsuit. But unlike many of his fellow officers, he knew the issue from all sides. He remembered how it felt to be that guy sprawled against the side of a building, and he knew the toll it took on officers to perform so many of these stops. “A piece of you dies when you violate people—your humanity,” he says. Right before the end-of-the-year deadline, the lawyers added his name to the witness list.
On February 22, Serrano showed up at work to discover that somebody had tipped over his locker, tossing the contents all over. It was a standard NYPD retaliation move. Another time, somebody had flipped the locker of an officer—also with the last name Serrano—by mistake and written RAT next to his name on his door, prompting somebody else to scribble next to it: WRONG SERRANO.
Serrano didn’t know who was targeting him, and that was the hardest part. “It could be the friend who’s talking to you, the [union] rep who’s supposed to be representing you,” he says.
So he stayed quiet, talking to no one, waiting for others to approach him, trying to figure out which co-workers were still his friends. There were several cops who seemed to be acting different, no longer looking him in the eye, but they said nothing. As he later testified, “I felt like I was in a shark tank and had multiple stab wounds and I was bleeding and they were circling me.”
After someone left those rat stickers and rat trap on his locker, Serrano decided to retaliate in his own way: He pulled out a marker and drew mustaches on a few of the stickers.
Recently, his supervisors had assigned him to keep watch at the school-bus drivers’ strike, a job usually reserved for less-senior officers. To Serrano, it felt like punishment. He called the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau for help, but that didn’t seem to accomplish anything. The only thing that gave him comfort was knowing that there was another officer one precinct over who understood exactly how he felt.
On March 20, Officer Adhyl Polanco sat on the witness stand in Courtroom 15C at the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Manhattan. It was day three of the trial of Floyd v. City of New York, and Serrano listened from the audience. “I grew up in Washington Heights; I know what it’s like to grow up in the hood. Basically, that not everybody who lives in a high-crime area is a criminal.” Polanco’s words sounded very familiar.
Despite Serrano’s initial worries about testifying, when he got his turn on the stand later that day, he was surprisingly calm; it felt good to share his experiences in a courtroom packed with lawyers and reporters and spectators. Before, he’d been just another anonymous cop with a stash of secret recordings and piles of typed notes. Now everyone was listening to him.