City to Award $15M to New Yorkers Unlawfully Arrested for Loitering

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Manhattan Criminal Court Manhattan Criminal Court (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

About 20,000 New Yorkers who were illegally arrested by the NYPD for loitering will get $15 million as part of a class action settlement approved Monday by a Manhattan federal judge.

After New York state and federal courts struck down anti-loitering laws in the 1980s and 1990s on First Amendment and other constitutional grounds, the police continued arresting people under these voided statutes for more than two decades. 

The settlement culminates two cases that had been consolidated in 2008. The first case, filed in June 2005, challenged enforcement of a law against "loitering for the purpose of begging." 

In 2008, a second case was filed, which fought enforcement of a law against loitering for the  purpose of engaging in "sexual behavior of a deviate nature" and a law against loitering in a transportation facility without sufficient explanation. The arrests occurred between 1983 and this year.

Matt Brinckerhoff, one of the lead lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said most of the people arrested had lacked the resources and knowledge to fight the unlawful charges at the time they were charged under the voided laws.

"They tend to be enforced disproportionately — massively disproportionately — against people who are homeless, people who are poor, people who are on the street," he said.

Brinckerhoff said about half of the plaintiffs had been begging for money on a sidewalk at the time they were arrested. Another large portion, he said, were men who were arrested while standing in a location where gay men were known to meet. 

But data collected from the lawsuit showed that the voided laws were being enforced not only by police officers, but by prosecutors and judges as well. Lawyers estimate that about 6,000 of the more than 20,000 plaintiffs were arraigned in court.

"Therefore, a prosecutor actually reviewed this and continued to pursue it, which is shocking," Brinckerhoff said.

Rachel Seligman, city attorney with the NYC Law Department, commented on the settlement, saying the NYPD is committed to its policy of not enforcing unconstitutional statues. "Due to NYPD's ongoing efforts and training, very, very few charges have been made under the unconstitutional loitering statutes in the last few years, and NYPD is dedicated to continuing those efforts in the future," Seligman said in a statement. "Unfortunately, as the statutes remained on the books for years after the courts declared them unconstitutional, all parts of the criminal justice system used them, including prosecutors, defense counsel and the court system, and people from all walks of life were affected.  Under the circumstances, the City believed this settlement was in the best interests of all parties."

Loitering was a violation under New York state law, which meant the person charged would receive a summons. Between 12,000 to 15,000 people were given summonses, plaintiffs’ lawyers said, and many of those summonses were upheld by judges.

Monetary relief for each of the class members will depend in part on how much time the individual was detained. Some spent at least one night in jail after their arrest for loitering. Many were also arrested on a warrant after they failed to appear in summons court. 

Since thousands of plaintiffs had unknowingly pled guilty to a charge that was no longer valid under state law, lawyers will seek to remove loitering violations from class members' records as part of the settlement. 

Brinckerhoff said records of these violations have affected people's access to jobs and housing.

In the next three months, lawyers will be contacting all 22,000 class members who must return a claim form to be eligible for payment. 


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Comments [4]

angel rivera from coney island section of brooklyn in th zip code of 11224

I would like to. Have some of my mental angwish,resolved! that the ny,police department arrested me against my civil rights, for allegdely loiretring, I was not given any due process of the judicial system of the law we the poeple of the united states. I angel, rivera solemly swear I was miss treated by. The law un lawfully, and demand an answer of my compensionn to be resoveled upon to tyhe highest ranking officel person or persons, handling thios matter, please can someone help ! Me ? By either phone , or email to tjhis matter please . Thank you!@ 718-775-1619. or, ps time is not a matter any longer enough is very crucia,l needa settlement anwser and date !

Mar. 24 2013 08:10 PM


Aug. 15 2012 09:24 PM
J Arbuckle

Are all sections of the loitering law declared unconstitutional? At a permitted march on May Day, the police arrested three youngsters for wearing masks while walking together in the march. I wonder if the arrests were legal?

May. 13 2012 02:45 PM
Bobby from nyc

Shouldn't this money come out the NYPD budget or salaries of those in charge because they violated the law.

Feb. 07 2012 02:57 PM

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