A Manhattan federal judge refused Monday to approve a proposed settlement of claims that the NYPD conducted illegal surveillance of Muslims, demanding tougher oversight of police and increased power for a civilian monitor to insure probes aren’t based on political views or religion.
U.S. District Judge Charles Haight said he wanted tighter enforcement of rules on extending investigations and using informants, regular reports to the court from a civilian representative called for in the settlement, and assurance the post couldn’t be abolished without court approval.
Without those changes, Haight said, he would disapprove the settlement because it “does not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city.”
The settlement by the city and lawyers representing Muslim plaintiffs, announced in January, was designed to resolve separate suits filed in Brooklyn and Manhattan federal courts following reports that the NYPD engaged in widespread spying on Muslims and infiltration of mosques.
Designed to update a set of federal court rules governing NYPD investigations of political activities dating to the 1970s, the settlement established a committee of police brass with one civilian named by the mayor to make sure investigations aren’t motivated by religion or ethnicity, and don’t continue indefinitely or unnecessarily use undercover tactics.
Haight said he supported the approach, but had heard criticisms from the Muslim community about limits on the civilian’s ability to go outside the NYPD, and was also concerned by a recent report from the city Department of Investigation that suggested a “systemic disinclination” at the NYPD to follow the rules.
He said, for example, that in paperwork backing up the need to use undercover officers, the NYPD had used “generic, boilerplate” language in which even typographical errors were carried over from one application to another.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, representing Muslim plaintiffs, said they would happily go along with the changes proposed by Haight to “further strengthen the settlement’s ability to protect New York Muslims.”
“The court’s ruling highlights safeguards we sought to secure but the NYPD refused to accept, and we hope it convinces the NYPD to establish additional protections against unwarranted surveillance,” the group said in a statement.
The city, which does not have to go along and could insist on going to trial instead, disputed the Department of Investigation report cited by Haight.
“We are disappointed that the settlement was not approved as the parties originally proposed,” said a statement from the city law department. “That said, we will explore ways to address the concerns raised by the Judge.”