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Lawsuit Says NYPD Is Still Engaging In Unconstitutional Stops Of New York Residents

from the stop-and-frisk-pretty-much-unstoppable dept

A federal judge shut down the NYPD's "stop and frisk" program back in 2013, finding the suspicionless stops (mainly of minorities) were unconstitutional. Then-mayor Mike Bloomberg defended the program -- often frothily -- by claiming it was essential to maintaining order. Without stop and frisk, the streets would be awash in deadly criminals and their deadly weapons. An actual look at the data showed something else: barely any guns recovered, tons of minimal busts for marijuana possession, and about 90% of people released with no citations or arrests.

But stop and frisk never really stopped. That's the assertion made by a class action lawsuit recently filed against the NYPD. The "frisk" part may have been dialed back a bit, but there are still plenty of suspicionless stops being made by NYPD officers, according to this report by Alice Speri of The Intercept.

Terron Belle was walking home from an upper Manhattan subway station one evening, three years ago, when an unmarked police car pulled up behind him. Four officers in plainclothes surrounded him on the sidewalk, ordering him to turn around against a gate so they could search him. Belle complied, and the officers found nothing on him, but they then demanded his ID, telling him that they were looking for guns and doing a “warrant check.”

“I didn’t have any warrants,” Belle told The Intercept. “I was a bit confused, like, why were they searching me for a warrant?”

Still, he complied. “I wasn’t going to argue,” he said, fearing that if he had, the encounter would have quickly turned dangerous for him. “It could have gone different, it was night time, there was nobody around us.”

When they found no warrant for Belle officers returned his ID and let him go without so much as an apology.

The same thing happened to New York resident Edison Quito, who was standing in front of his building when a group of officers walked up to him and demanded his ID. One officer told Quito that if he didn't comply he'd be arrested. Quito complied. Officers ran his ID and came up empty. They let him go.

This scene has played out thousands of times in New York City, according to the lawsuit [PDF]. There are currently seven plaintiffs suing over these tactics. There will likely be more added as the litigation progresses. The lawsuit says the city has failed to properly oversee the NYPD, allowing it to engage in unconstitutional stops of citizens at will -- a practice urged on by NYPD supervisors.

NYPD officials knew to a moral certainty that police officers would confront situations where they (1) were tempted to detain an individual even when no reasonable suspicion for that detention existed and (2) had detained an individual to conduct a stop-and-frisk or other search based on a reasonable suspicion, but that suspicion was entirely extinguished when the stop-and-frisk or other search produced no drugs, weapons or contraband of any kind.

[...]

The NYPD persistently fails to discipline police officers who follow the custom and practice. When faced with a clear pattern of police officers conducting such unlawful detentions for the purpose of conducting warrant searches, the NYPD did not investigate or discipline those officers, thereby acquiescing in and tacitly authorizing the police officers’ unlawful actions.

The lawsuit alleges even more illegal activity by the NYPD. Ticket and arrest quotas have been banned pretty much everywhere in the nation, but multiple officers have gone on record stating that NYPD supervisors still set quotas for officers to meet.

In a 2014 interview featured in 2018’s Crime + Punishment, police officer Sandy Gonzalez explained the existence and implementation of the quota system and noted that NYPD officials are “retaliating against me because of my numbers. I would have to massively write summonses and arrest people to come up with the number close to the number that they want to come up with.”

Other officers have sued the NYPD over the last four years alleging that they were unlawfully retaliated against for blowing the whistle on, and complaining about, the existence and implementation of an unlawful arrest quota system. In a response to these lawsuits, in February 2018 the NYPD mandated officer training that emphasizes that quotas for enforcement activity violates department policy.

Nonetheless, in August 2018, Sergeant Edwin Raymond reported to the Gothamist that “[t]he quota system is absolutely happening. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. It’s every single week.”

And it's not just the plaintiffs calling these stops unconstitutional. At least one court has already done the same thing itself during a previous lawsuit brought by one of the plaintiffs in this case.

On August 31, 2018, the court granted Mr. Ramirez’s motion for partial summary judgment with respect to the unconstitutionality of the five-minute warrant search. The court held that it “cannot see how running a warrant check on a passenger after it is clear that he does not possess weapons or contraband could be considered anything but an ‘endeavor to detect crime in general.’” (quoting Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609, 1616 (2015))

The unconstitutional practice has never gone away. There may be fewer physical frisks, but the NYPD is leveraging its tech to perform suspicionless searches of multiple police databases in hopes of manufacturing some probable cause after the fact. The 2014 federal court decision failed to kill the practice. The federal oversight of the program following this decision failed to end it. Maybe this lawsuit will. But the NYPD's suspicionless search programs have proven incredibly resilient and resistant to oversight.

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Filed Under: nypd, stop and frisk, suspicionless stops


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