NY Federal Judge Rules Stop-and-Frisk Program Unconstitutional

Posted By Urban News Hour | January 9, 2013

A Manhattan Federal Court judge has ordered police stop making trespass stops outside private residential buildings immediately. The tactic was decried by some as infringing on civil liberties.

A key part of the NYPD’s controversial “stop and frisk” tactic has been ruled unconstitutional.

Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered police to refrain from making some trespass stops outside private residential buildings — even though the landlord has given officers permission to do so as part of the NYPD’s “Clean Halls” program.

“While it may be difficult to say when precisely to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops outside buildings,” Scheindlin wrote in a 157-page ruling.

The New York Times writes:

“The lawsuit, Ligon v. the City of New York, is one of three related cases involving stop-and-frisk practices before Judge Scheindlin. The broadest reaching case accuses the police of stopping and frisking hundreds of thousands of people a year solely on the basis of race; Judge Scheindlin granted that lawsuit class-action status in May. The third case challenges police stops at public housing projects.“In the decision released on Tuesday, the judge ordered the police ‘to cease performing trespass stops’ outside the private buildings in the program unless officers have reasonable suspicion, a legal standard that requires police officers to be acting on more than just a hunch.

“The fact that a person was merely seen entering or leaving a building was not enough to permit the police to stop someone, ‘even if the building is located in a high-crime area, and regardless of the time of day,’ the judge ruled. Nor was it enough for an officer to conduct a stop simply because the officer had observed the person move furtively, Judge Scheindlin said. (The forms that the police fill out after each street stop offer ‘furtive’ movements as a basis for the stop).”

“If he’s coming in the building and he doesn’t have his ID they harass him,” said Jefferson’s mother, Ronda Bryant, 52.

“I think it’s great. It’ll make a big difference,” Bryant said of Tuesday’s ruling.

But Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly stood by the practice, echoing the department’s larger defense of stop and frisk as a vital crimefighting tool.

“Some take for granted the safety provided by doormen who routinely challenge visitors to their apartment buildings. Through ‘Clean Halls,’ the police have worked to provide a modicum of safety for less prosperous tenants,” Kelly said.

He was not alone. Some residents of “Clean Halls” buildings vouched for the police presence.

“These buildings — especially in neighborhoods like this, which are kind of bad — need to be checked,” said Willie Hayes, 56, who lives on E. 163rd St. and added he doesn’t mind being stopped by police.

The NYCLU argued that “Clean Halls,” which exists in 8,000 buildings citywide, leads to people being hassled by cops near their own abode for no legitimate reason.

The legal challenge centered on the case of Jaenean Ligon, who in August 2011 sent her 17-year-old son to buy ketchup for the family’s dinner.

Two plainclothes cops stopped and frisked the teen outside the family’s building and then asked Ligon to come downstairs to identify her son, according to court documents.

The mother of three testified the request sent her into a panic because she feared the worst — that her son had been seriously hurt or killed.

“The last thing I expect to hear is someone saying, ‘Come identify your son,’ ” Ligon said on the stand.

In addition to immediately halting such trespass stops in the Bronx, Scheindlin ordered a Jan. 31 hearing to determine what other relief should be granted.

“For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friends and family, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat,” she wrote.

The fiery judge, who presided over three Junior Gotti trials, can certainly take the heat now.

“I do what I think is right, and whether the circuit (appeals court), the press, the public or whoever think it’s right, doesn’t matter,” Scheindlin told the Daily News in 1997. “Should it?”


Please login to comment