Judge OKs Class Action Suit, Says 'Overwhelming' Evidence Points to Unlawful Stop and Frisks

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly about alleged 'lone wolf' terrorist Jose Pimentelon. (Mario Tama/Getty)

Finding the city's attitude "deeply troubling," a judge granted class action status Wednesday to a 2008 lawsuit accusing the New York Police Department of discriminating against blacks and Hispanics with its stop-and-frisk policies aimed at reducing crime.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan said in a written ruling that there was "overwhelming evidence" that a centralized stop-and-frisk program has led to thousands of unlawful stops. She noted that the vast majority of New Yorkers who are unlawfully stopped will never file a lawsuit in response, and she said class-action status was created for just these kinds of court cases.

When asked to comment on the judge’s class certification decision on Wednesday, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, “It is what it is.”

Less than an hour later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the stop-and-frisk practices and quickly dismissed allegations that citywide unlawful stops were a substantial problem. “I don’t get that sense,” Bloomberg told reporters gathered in City Hall, “and when you do polling, my understanding is the polls show overwhelming support by the public.”

Class Action Suit Seeks Change in Policy

In order to certify a class, plaintiffs have to show that their circumstances are typical of the entire class and possess questions of fact and law common to all class members.

Plaintiffs define the class as everyone who has been stopped since January 2005 without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, including people who alleged they were stopped and frisked just because they were black or Latino. 

If the case had not received class certification, any remedy won would likely have been limited to the particular precincts in which they were stopped by police.  Now that class certification has been granted, whatever remedy is imposed by the court will be imposed city-wide.

By certifying the lawsuit as a class action now, Scheindlin widened the lawsuit from a case about four men alleging they were unlawfully stopped to a case where the NYPD’s entire stop-and-frisk program is now before the court. 

The lawsuit was brought by four named plaintiffs – all African-American men, ranging in age from the 20s to 40s, who said they were racially profiled and stopped without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in different parts of city. 

The class members are seeking injunctive relief, not money damages.

Plaintiffs lawyer Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, in the event a jury agrees that the NYPD is unlawfully stopping people and racially profiling blacks and Latinos, class members will likely request oversight of the NYPD by a federal court monitor. They also intend to ask for an end to what they describe as a “quota” system, which they argue pressures commanders and officers log a certain level of arrests, summonses and stops every reporting period.  Finally, Charney said class members will request re-training and tightened supervision over stop-and-frisk practices. 

In Rare Move, Judge Issues Opinion with Decision

Scheindlin said she found it "disturbing" that the city responded to the lawsuit by saying a court order to stop the practice would amount to "judicial intrusion," and that no injunction could guarantee that suspicionless stops would never occur or would only occur in a certain percentage of encounters.

"First, suspicionless stops should never occur," Scheindlin wrote. She said the police department's "cavalier attitude towards the prospect of a `widespread practice of suspicionless stops' displays a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights."

She added that if the police department was engaging in a widespread practice of unlawful stops, then an injunction seeking to curb that practice is not the "judicial intrusion into a social institution" that the city claims it would be but "a vindication of the Constitution and an exercise of the courts' most important function: protecting individual rights in the face of the government's malfeasance."

The city law office said in a statement: "We respectfully disagree with the decision and are reviewing our legal options."

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has not yet confirmed whether his office is investigating allegations of unconstitutional stop and frisks, also refused to comment on the class certification decision or any possible investigation by his office.

“We’re not involved in that lawsuit, and when we have something to say on this issue, we will say something,” said Schneiderman.

Plaintiffs’’ attorney Charney was pleased with the decision. He said it “reinforces that this is a citywide problem the NYPD needs to address."

The Police Department said it made 601,055 street stops of potential suspects last year, with about 10 percent of the stops resulting in arrests. In 2009, there were 575,304 stops.

With the Associated Press

5-16-12 Floyd Class Cert Opinion and Order


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Comments [3]

rich king from brooklyn

It's about time. Time to put a stop to this bogus policing policy based strictly on racial profiling: one executed by hyped-up storm troopers posing as law enforcement. It seems that Black men have been abused in NYC by the NYPD forever, merely for choosing to exercise their constitutional right to walk the streets like any other White citizen of this good state. Shame on the mayor and his lackeys in the NYPD.

May. 16 2012 10:10 PM
Paul.J. Bosco from Manhattan

Arrogance is the word! Reminds me of the cavalier attitude of the Obama administration respecting drone attacks on US citizens. As for Bloomberg's balancing of poll results with the personal liberties of minorities, this is beneath (even) him.

Both Obama and Bloomie seem to have decided the law is secondary, if a given policy will fly, politically.

Mind you, the rapture Americans felt, over the premeditated slaughter of Bin Laden --hardly diminished, a year later-- shows that arrogance is not limited to politicians. Bin Laden got about what he deserved, but that does not mean we have not diminished ourselves in the process.

Shira Scheindlin is one of my favorite judges, based on several of her cases.

I appreciate your comment, "alanwright".

--Paul J. Bosco

May. 16 2012 05:35 PM


I hope the NYPD loses this lawsuit and the City has to cough up billions to the class members. Some of those class members are criminals, felons, and bad people. Too bad, because most are not. Let the individual named defendants fail to gain sovereign immunity, so that they too must pay from their salary largesse. What else would stop future misbehavior but personal financial consequences?

I say let fiscal hardship and belt-tightening be damned. The city has been brazen in its disregard of basic constitutional freedoms through what are patently discriminatory practices. The reasonable suspicion standard of Terry vs. Ohio has been abused from the start. Such brazenness cannot be ignored.

The most bewildering aspect of the stop-and-frisk approach to "crime prevention" is that the NYPD and NYC politicians fail to consider the potential ramifications of their policy.

One: the risk that generations of people will be skeptical of the NYPD's even-handed role in policing. Two: the risk that thousands of people arrested for possession will return to their neighborhoods with a record, a hardened outlook, and the desire to fight in order to stay out of Rikers. Three: that some people will shoot police officers to do so. Four: that in less than 10 years after September 11, millions of citizens of New York City no longer see the NYPD as heros, but as entitled stooges who advance racially discriminatory policies against American citizens. The memory of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo have not faded; they were reignited by the abuses of the 2004 RNC protestors and the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Five: that it can only hurt the recruitment of officers among people of color, further alienating some communities from their support of NYPD practices.

Michael Bloomberg has been disgraced by deferring to Rudy Giuliani and Ray Kelly on this issue. The surveillance of Muslim communities of NJ and NY is closes the book.

The NYPD has no one to blame but itself and heads should have rolled years ago.

May. 16 2012 01:54 PM

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