In a departure from penalty guidelines, NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban has ruled that a police officer in Brooklyn who lied to the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau while under investigation for submitting two fake COVID vaccination cards can keep her job, NYPD documents show.

The determination was Caban’s first deviation from the NYPD’s so-called “disciplinary matrix” since he was named commissioner last July. That matrix determines that making false official statements should result in termination “absent extraordinary circumstances.”

His decision also ran counter to an NYPD administrative trial judge’s recommendation that the officer, Kimberly Lucas, should lose her job.

The disciplinary matrix provides presumed penalties for a range of misconduct, and police commissioners have been required to provide written explanations for any deviations from the penalty range since the NYPD adopted the matrix in January 2021.

There were 14 such deviations from the matrix before Caban, all of them toward lesser penalties than those prescribed, but six of which were in agreement with the watchdog Civilian Complaint Review Board’s recommendation.

The strict repercussions for false statements in the matrix was largely the product of decades of pressure from a police oversight board, the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, which has been pushing the department to terminate police officers when they intentionally make false, material statements.

That push started as far back as 1996, when the commission wrote that routine lying by police officers was as “equally devastating” as major corruption scandals.

But the commission has repeatedly noted over the years that while the NYPD has talked tough about penalizing false statements, it hasn’t followed through.

“The Department’s past practice of not seeking termination has not only minimized the seriousness of intentional lies but has, as a practical matter, incentivized officers to lie in hopes that even if their dishonesty is provable, they will still keep their jobs,” the commission wrote in 2022, in a review of cases that preceded the adoption of the disciplinary matrix. “This, in turn, results in an unacceptable number of cases in which officers lie when questioned.”

In Caban’s May 10 letter explaining his decision in the Lucas case, he cited her exemplary 9-year work history — including “favorable performance evaluations,” “no formal disciplinary history” and “accomplishments” — to enact a penalty of one-year probation and the loss of 85 vacation days. His ruling is final.

But Lucas’s employment record had already been factored into the recommendation of administrative trial judge Anne Stone, who said she should be allowed to retire rather than be terminated — a distinction that generally results in a financial benefit.

Caban had been less accommodating in a decision he made earlier this year in an unrelated case where an officer with a stellar work history — including serving in the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan — faced termination for failing to appear for an IAB interview where he was the subject of investigation.

The administrative trial judge in that case also argued for leniency, based on the officer’s rave reviews from colleagues and the fact that the officer’s attorney had advised him not to attend the interview. But in that case, Caban insisted on termination, noting how seriously he takes the IAB investigative process.

“The department is a paramilitary organization, and failure to obey and comply with questioning under official investigation undermines its ability to carry out its mission,” Caban wrote on January 29.

The NYPD’s press office didn’t respond to questions about Caban’s rulings in the two cases.

Lucas and her attorney, Stuart London, of the firm Worth, London & Martinez LLP, didn’t respond to phone messages seeking comment.

Tall Tale

As recounted in Stone’s administrative trial decision, Lucas said she was told by a captain in the 70th Precinct in the fall of 2021 that she would need to be vaccinated by a certain date or she would be put on unpaid leave.

Lucas would eventually tell investigators she went to the “Asisa Community” urgent care center in Brooklyn, where she had been previously tested for COVID-19, to get vaccinated. She said the receptionist asked her twice if she wanted the vaccine, but smirked the second time in a way that Lucas took to mean she could get a card without actually getting the vaccine, the decision papers say.

So Lucas smirked back, and was handed a piece of paper with a phone number on it. She was instructed to send her personal details by text and later got a message informing her she could pick up the card on Staten Island. Lucas uploaded the fake vaccination card into her NYPD personnel file.

Sometime later, she got a notice from internal affairs that she was the subject of a probe and was asked to bring her vaccination card to an interview on Dec. 7, 2021, according to Stone’s decision report.

Lucas had lost the fake card, so she obtained another one from the urgent care center to bring to the interview, which for some reason listed a different location for where she was “vaccinated.”

But Lucas had initially told IAB investigators a different story about her vaccination status, according to the administrative trial decision.

“[She] told the investigators that she went to the urgent care, met with a doctor, was given the COVID-19 vaccine shot, and then waited in the lobby for fifteen minutes to ensure that there were no side effects,” the decision says.

Lucas was interviewed again by IAB, but not until October 2022, when she admitted that she had lied to investigators previously. She also came clean at her administrative trial, where she pleaded guilty to intentionally providing a false statement and impeding an investigation, as well as two counts of “conduct prejudicial” for each of the fake vaccination cards.

At the trial, the NYPD prosecutor sought termination, based on the disciplinary matrix.

Lucas’s attorney asked Stone for a mitigated penalty of one-year probation and 60 days of lost vacation based on a number of factors, including her clean employment record and the fact that she was a single mom. Lucas also explained that she was scared to get the vaccine because her mom had a stroke within days of getting vaccinated, and that she had lied about it in order to keep her job.

Stone said she was sympathetic to those factors, and argued for a mitigated penalty of forced retirement, with vestment, based on Lucas’s strong employment record.

But she wrote that she was troubled by the 10-month lag between Lucas’s false statements to IAB and her later admission of the truth.

“[She] confessed only when confronted with her falsehoods by IAB investigators,” wrote Stone. “Lucas's failure to be truthful under circumstances when she was mandated to be argues against her continued employment with the Department.”

COVID Terminations

Lucas’s case also touches on the COVID vaccine mandate for city government workers that was introduced late in 2021 by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio and executed early on under Mayor Eric Adams.

In February 2022, the Adams administration terminated nearly 1,800 cops, firefighters, teachers and other city workers who failed to abide by the mandate.

Hundreds of city workers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge against potential termination from their jobs if they continued to refuse getting vaccinated.
Hundreds of city workers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge against potential termination from their jobs if they continued to refuse getting vaccinated, Feb. 7, 2022. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Roughly a year later, with the crisis receded and with updated health recommendations for addressing it, Adams ended the mandate.

The administration said it would create paths for terminated workers to be reinstated, but last week a spokesperson for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services told THE CITY that just 72 workers terminated over the mandate have been reinstated.

A number of those seeking reinstatement have also objected to a waiver they say the city requires for reemployment, which gives up their right to sue over issues like back pay and civil servant rights. Asked about the waiver, the spokesperson, Dan Kastanis said only that it gives agencies the discretion to reinstate employees.

Last week, a joint City Council committee held a hearing on health topics that included a resolution submitted by minority leader Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) in support of state legislation that would reinstate city workers who were dismissed for not meeting the vaccination mandate.

Three panels of government employees who were terminated or forced to resign laid out the hardships some of them have endured since.

Javier Vasquez, a former FDNY firefighter, said he was terminated in 2022 after not securing a religious accommodation from the mandate. He won reinstatement in Brooklyn Supreme Court in January, but the Adams administration appealed without putting him back to work.

“My family has struggled to eat, to keep the utilities on,” he testified. “We’ve had to sell our house.”

Former FDNY officer Javier Vasquez testified remotely at a Council hearing about being fired after refusing to get a COVID vaccine.
Former FDNY officer Javier Vasquez testified remotely at a Council hearing about being fired after refusing to get a COVID vaccine, June 24, 2024. Credit: Screengrab via New York City Cou

Alfonso Ventura, a former school lunch helper for the Department of Education in Manhattan, said his termination in October 2021 took him from being hailed as an essential worker hero to being homeless and living in a shelter for three years.

“Without job, without money and without unemployment insurance, I was a hero — and homeless,” he testified.

Marlon Bethel, a former detective with 15 years at the NYPD, including in its intelligence bureau, said he was among the hundreds of terminations in February 2022. A year later, he was given just three weeks to sign the waiver giving up certain vital rights, even as the city failed to answer a host of questions he had about it.

In a phone call, Bethel, 43, noted that he’s not anti-vaccines. He said he prefers to wait for a COVID vaccine that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration through a regular timeline rather than an emergency one that undergoes less rigorous testing.

He was among a number of speakers last Monday who said that city workers who lied about their vaccination status had better outcomes than those who didn’t.

“Had I simply chosen fraud and dishonesty and used a fake vax card, I would have been reprimanded and still allowed to keep my job,” he testified. “So why is it that having chosen honesty and actual science, I’m no longer allowed to be there?”