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Judge: NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy violated civil rights of thousands

Plaintiffs in the "Stop and Frisk" case, from

Plaintiffs in the "Stop and Frisk" case, from left, Nicholas Peart; Lalit Clarkson; Leroy Downs; Devin Almonor, and David Ourlicht, pose for photos after plaintiffs and attorneys spoke at a news conference at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. (Aug. 12, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

A federal judge ruled on Monday that the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of race and ordered the appointment of an outside federal monitor to oversee reforms in the program.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday called the decision "dangerous" and vowed an appeal.

In a 195-page decision, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin in Manhattan found that the NYPD had been "deliberately indifferent" to the way officers conducted unconstitutional stops and frisks, and had "repeatedly turned a blind eye" to clear evidence of such illegal activity. She ruled that the so-called stop-and-frisk policy violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the 14th Amendment, which provides for equal protections under the law.

Scheindlin found that the NYPD violated the rights of those stopped and frisked through what she called "indirect racial profiling" of blacks and Hispanics, who were more likely to be stopped than whites in a precinct area, even when allowing for other variables.

"This is a dangerous decision by a judge who doesn't understand how policing works," a clearly angry Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference.

"She ignored the real-world realities of crime, the fact that stops match up with crime statistics, and the fact that our police officers on patrol -- the majority of whom are black, Hispanic or members of other ethnic or racial minorities -- make an average of less than one stop a week," Bloomberg said.

City officials say stop and frisk, for which detailed monitoring began in 2002, has led to a drop in violent crimes, but civil liberties groups said the practice violated individuals' civil rights.

"We welcome the appointment of a federal monitor . . . and we look forward to the broad process of community engagement that the court has ordered," New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said.

Those stopped by police praised the ruling.

"It doesn't stop here," plaintiff Nicholas Peart, 24, who testified he was stopped numerous times, said at a news conference Monday. "We have to constantly work for the greater good that strengthens police relations."

By age 18, he said, he had been stopped and frisked at least 10 times and never was arrested.

On his 18th birthday, police with drawn guns forced him and his visiting cousins from suburban Pennsylvania to the ground when they were sitting on a traffic median in Harlem.

"My cousins were from the suburbs, and seeing them react and articulate what happened opened my eyes to the injustice," said Peart, who testified for an entire day of court, telling the judge about "the psychological effect this systematic problem of stop and frisk had on me growing up."

Peart, who works as an after-school counselor for a community group, said he plans to participate in the dialogue over the issue.

"It's important for the younger generation," he said. "I thought it was normal and reasonable to be stopped and frisked growing up" in Harlem.

Wilma Almonor, 52, mother of plaintiff Devin, 17, said the judge's decision brings some satisfaction. Devin was 13 when he was stopped and frisked and brought to a Harlem precinct to see his parents be assaulted by officers when they went there to take him home.

"My son is a good kid," she said. "He is a straight-A student and now because of this he doesn't even want to go out."

We go out together as a team, always watching over our shoulder to see if the police are going to stop us or follow us."

At the news conference, Darius Charney, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the judge's decision "is recognition on part of the court that there has been a denial by the city that they have been practicing systematic racial profiling. This is unconstitutional behavior."

Criticizing the city for not cooperating with her and plaintiffs in the case to help suggest some remedies, Scheindlin appointed former prosecutor and city corporation counsel Peter Zimroth to oversee reforms in the stop-and-frisk program. She also ordered the NYPD to institute a pilot program of having officers in five test precincts with the highest number of stops last year use body-worn cameras to document the stops they make. Under the law, police can stop, question and frisk someone they reasonably believe has committed or will commit a crime; Scheindlin stressed she was not abolishing the tactic.

The decision in a class-action lawsuit involving the New York Civil Liberties Union and other civil-rights groups was seen by many as a rebuke of the crime-fighting policies of Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. Under Kelly, the city has seen serious crimes and murders decline to record levels. Homicides numbered 2,245 in 1990 and may stay under 300 this year.

From around 97,000 stops conducted in 2002, the NYPD recorded a high of 684,300 in 2011, but pulled back to 533,042 in 2012. On average about 86 percent of stops involve black or Hispanic men and slightly more than one in 10 stops led to a summons or an arrest. Six-month statistics for 2013 were not yet available, but the first-quarter results showed a pullback of 51 percent compared with the same period in 2012.

Bloomberg said in his news conference that city lawyers would appeal the ruling and indicated he thought the judge had stacked the deck against the city.

"Given the judge's public comments and media interviews throughout the case, this decision was certainly not a surprise," Bloomberg said.

"What I find most disturbing and offensive about this decision is the notion that the NYPD engages in racial profiling," Kelly said. "That simply is recklessly untrue."

The city's top lawyer, Michael Cardozo, said his office would ask the appellate court for a stay of Scheindlin's order once Zimroth issues his first directive.

Cardozo indicated evidence in the case showed that as much as 95 percent of some 8 million NYPD stops over the years were legal -- a point that would be raised on appeal.

With Maria Alvarez

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