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NYPD officer testifies about teen's stop-and-frisk

People walk by a Times Square police precinct

People walk by a Times Square police precinct in Manhattan. (July 10, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

An NYPD officer testified Wednesday in a federal court in Manhattan that he stopped, questioned and frisked a Harlem teenager walking on a street in March 2010 when he saw the boy reach for the side of his body.

"I suspected he had a weapon in his waistband," Officer Brian Dennis told U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin. That suspicion, Dennis said, was the reason he detained and searched Devin Almonor, 13, over the boy's objection.

Dennis, assigned to the anti-crime unit in the 30th Precinct at the time, and his then-supervisor, Sgt. Jonathan Korabel, were called as witnesses to testify Wednesday in the second week of the civil trial. The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of four black New Yorkers, alleged that the police stopped the men based on their race.

Almonor, now 16, testified last week that he had just walked with a friend, who was visiting him at his home on Riverside Drive, to a bus stop, when police detained and searched him.

After Dennis handcuffed Almonor, the officer said he ran his hands over the teenager's body looking for a gun.

"He didn't have a weapon, right?" asked Jennifer Borchetta, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

"No, he did not," Dennis replied.

Opponents of stop-and-frisk said the stops are illegal and an invasion of individuals' privacy, while city officials say it has deterred crime. Plaintiffs want the judge to rein in the NYPD's use of the tactic with better procedures and tighter monitoring.

Before testimony began Wednesday, Darius Charney, one of the plaintiff's attorneys, revealed in court that the NYPD had issued a memo on March 5 -- one day after his team submitted requests for relief -- ordering officers to provide better documentation of the stops in their activity logs.

The directive, issued by Chief of Patrol James P. Hall, requires officers to note the date, time, location and names of the people they stopped, as well as an explanation of why the stops were made and what crimes were committed.

For example, if the officer checked off the box that indicated that they stopped an individual for "furtive movements," now officers must describe that movement, details they were not required to provide before this month.

Without those details, it's impossible to determine whether the stops are legal, Charney said in an interview outside the courthouse.

"Just because something is on paper doesn't mean it's actually happening out on the streets and that's what our case is about," said Charney.

Dennis and Korabel were responding to 911 calls about a disorderly crowd in Harlem on March 20, 2010, when they saw Almonor walking on Hamilton Place.

Although they did not find a weapon on Almonor, the officers put the teenager in the back of an unmarked police cruiser and drove him to the 30th Precinct station house, where he was charged with disorderly conduct for "screaming and fighting," which occurred after Almonor was stopped.

"What are you doing? I am going home. I am a kid," Dennis testified, recalling what Almonor said when he was detained. On the way to the station house, Almonor cried and Dennis said he told the boy to "stop crying like a girl," a taunt Dennis said he regrets making.

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