Security guard Charles Bradley went to visit his fiancee after work on a May afternoon last year, but he ended up arrested, accused of trespass outside her Bronx apartment building, and was interrogated about guns and drugs and strip-searched, he testified in federal court in Manhattan Tuesday.
"I felt extremely violated, to say the least," said Bradley, 52, the first in a parade of plaintiffs to complain about police stops in a case challenging the NYPD's alleged abuse of trespass laws to harass law-abiding citizens.
The lawsuit, brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, focuses on trespass charges outside Bronx buildings that request police patrols under the so-called Clean Halls program.
This is the first of three major challenges to NYPD stop-and-frisk practices to go to trial. The plaintiffs want U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin to issue a preliminary injunction to rein in misconduct. The city says its tactics are legal and effective and that the police don't need court oversight.
Bradley said his fiancee was not home when he arrived. As he stood outside the building, he testified, a police van pulled up and officers started questioning him, refusing to accept his explanation that he was visiting "a young lady." The trespass charge, dismissed when his fiancee later vouched for him, did not seem to be their primary interest, he testified.
"They asked me about guns, about drugs, about this, that and the third," he told the judge. "But not trespassing."
Other plaintiffs described briefer, milder encounters. Letitia Ledan, 41, said that when she saw her estranged husband and two friends being frisked in front of her Morris Heights apartment building and asked what was going on, she was ordered to show identification before police would let her go inside.
"I feel frustrated because the police shouldn't be stopping people with no reason, but they do it anyway," she said.
Fernando Moronta, 36, a former store manager, said he felt "disrespected" when he was detained on suspicion of trespass as he left his brother's apartment building on Walton Avenue until police checked with the brother.
Jovan Jefferson, 20, a student, said he had been stopped and questioned a half-dozen times visiting or waiting for friends on Selwyn Avenue.
"I'm being stopped all the time because of the neighborhood I live in," he said. "The officers are biased."
Hearings in the case are expected to continue into next week.