Back in 2013, when a fight between an estranged couple led to the arrest of a woman who headed a nonprofit group, a close friend of hers reached out to his brother — a top NYPD chief — to see what was going on.
The chief made a phone call, and ultimately the arrest of the nonprofit CEO was voided.
The incident barely registered at the time. But now it takes on a new resonance for a simple reason: All three participants are among Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ top advisors.
The woman who was arrested is the newly appointed Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright. And it was recently appointed Schools Chancellor David Banks who phoned his brother Philip Banks III, now Adams’ top consultant on criminal justice.
Meanwhile, Adams has said he is considering making Philip Banks — who quit the NYPD under a cloud seven years ago — deputy mayor for public safety.
The 2013 incident unfolded in the early hours of Jan. 6, when Wright — the CEO of United Way New York City — and her then-husband, Gregg Walker, at the time a Sony executive — were both arrested after a fight inside their Harlem townhouse.
Cops arrested Wright a second time later that same day for allegedly attacking Walker’s mother. The mother-in-law was subsequently arrested after Wright filed a counterclaim against her.
At the time, David Banks — then a top city school official — was a close friend of Wright, and the two are now domestic partners. He attended the announcement of her appointment as Adams’ deputy mayor for strategic initiatives Monday at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
No ‘Special Favors’
On the night Wright was arrested, David Banks contacted his brother Philip, then the chief of community affairs at the NYPD, according to records and interviews.
A spokesperson for Adams said that David Banks “made his brother, Phil, aware that Wright had been arrested.” But David Banks “did not ask for any favors of his brother,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said that Wright recalled that she learned later that Philip had asked that both arrests be expedited because there was no evidence of physical harm.
Philip Banks’ differing recollection was that he had requested a status report and that the precinct commander “informed him that she had been released and so had Gregg,” the Adams spokesperson said.
While Wright’s arrest was voided, Walker’s remained in place and he was subsequently charged with misdemeanor assault. A judge issued a temporary restraining order against Walker, barring him from returning to the couple’s Harlem home.
But Sheena Wright was arrested again later that same day, and was charged with misdemeanor assault after Walker’s mother alleged she’d assaulted her. Wright in turn accused Walker’s mother of assault, and she, too, was arrested.
Weeks later, the charges against Wright, Walker and his mother were all dismissed, according to Walker and to Adams’ spokesperson.
“Ms. Wright was inappropriately detained, as the court later determined, and that is why she was released from the precinct and her case was dismissed — not because of any outside intervention,” Adams’ spokesperson said.
Reached by THE CITY Friday, Philip Banks said he had “nothing” to add when asked about the incident.
Philip Banks was promoted to chief of department — the highest ranking uniformed member of the NYPD — two months after his inquiry about Wright’s arrest.
As THE CITY recently detailed, Banks resigned from that job a year later amid an FBI probe. He has been working for weeks inside NYPD headquarters interviewing department leaders and other law enforcement staff as he helps craft the criminal justice program for the incoming Adams administration.
Responding to THE CITY, Wright provided a statement through Adams’ spokesperson:
“In granting an order of protection against my ex-husband and demanding that he be removed from my home, it is clear that he was the aggressor and needed to be forcefully removed,” she said. “Domestic and intimate partner violence is unfortunately faced by many women in this city and I vow to bring this lived experience to City Hall as I work on behalf of all New Yorkers.”
David Banks’ Link to Judge
At the time of the incident, the couple was in the middle of a divorce, but still living in the same home with Walker’s mother.
As the divorce case between Wright and Walker continued, Walker’s attorney, Rene Myatt, requested permission to subpoena David Banks, the founder and then CEO of the Eagle Academy, a specialty school in the Department of Education that exclusively teaches Black male students.
Divorce papers filed by Walker described David Banks as Wright’s “paramour.” At the time, she denied this, the court papers state.
As Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Tandra Dawson considered Myatt’s request to subpoena Banks, a connection between the judge and the educator emerged.
“Justice Dawson advised counsel in a conference call that she had a professional relationship with David Banks,” Myatt stated in court papers.
At first Myatt offered “no objection in the court continuing to hear the matter.”
But the papers note that Judge Dawson then “remarked that [Myatt] may have a problem, implying that she was confident that a decision would be rendered” against Walker.
Walker at first acquiesced, accepting Dawson’s statement that she could be fair despite the prior connection. Then — as expected — Dawson shot down the request to question David Banks.
Myatt shifted gears, filing an appeal to pause Dawson’s ruling, writing that her client “feels that he was wrong in his assessment and believes that the judge’s relationship with David Banks has negatively influenced her overall perspective about the action against him.”
In court papers filed as part of that appeal, Walker stated: “The fact that the court denied my request to depose David Banks to permit to conduct inquiry into the financial aspects of his relationship with my wife shows that her professional relationship with David Banks has caused her fair and impartial perspective in this matter to be tainted in favor of Mr. Banks and ultimately my wife.”
‘Tons of Problems’
In an emailed response to questions from THE CITY, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration, said Dawson had met David Banks when she presided in Bronx Family Court.
She set up a Family Court mentoring program for students with Banks when he was the principal of the Bronx School of Law and Government, Chalfen wrote.
Messages left for David Banks at the Eagle Academy Foundation, where Philip Banks was a board member from 2008 through 2011, were not returned.
Wright’s ex-husband, Walker, said he believes Philip Banks’ inquiry into his wife’s arrest — along with his subsequent sudden resignation — tainted the process.
“The concept of that person playing a leading role in law enforcement in the city suggests that we are at risk of having tons of problems and it will make us less safe and in particular people like me who are already victims may be particularly unsafe,” Walker told THE CITY.