Judge orders NYPD to cease stop & frisk in Bronx apartment buildings

A man is stopped and frisked by NYPD in Brooklyn.  Photo by Jeremy Sparig
Jeremy Sparig

A U.S. District Court Judge ruled this morning that the NYPD must cease unlawful stops inside and around private buildings in the Bronx that are enrolled in the NYPD’s Clean Halls program.

As part of Operation Clean Halls, landlords or managing agents register their building with the NYPD, giving the NYPD permission to patrol in and around the buildings.

The case was brought by the NYCLU, the Bronx Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the law firm Sherman & Sterling on behalf of about a dozen New Yorkers, most of whom were residents of the buildings in or around which they were stopped and on occasion frisked, searched, or even arrested, according to NYCLU attorney Alexis Karteron.

At least three of the plaintiffs were minors being represented by their parents.

Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered that the NYPD immediately “cease performing trespass stops . . . without reasonable suspicion of trespass.”

A person being stopped must not be made to feel that he or she is not able to “terminate the encounter,” the judge ruled.

In the hearing, Bronx Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Rucker testified to being concerned that stops and arrests were made solely on the basis of a person having entered or exited a Clean Halls building.

Lawyers for the city accused Rucker of inventing the problem to lessen the DA’s caseload, or under pressure from the Bronx Defenders, an organization representing the plaintiffs. Judge Scheindlin dismissed these accusations, ruling, “A prosecutor has professional and institutional incentives to be skeptical of allegations that the police are making stops and arrests without a legal basis.”

“That ADA Rucker overcame her skepticism says a great deal about the severity of the problem,” Scheindlin wrote.

Karteron said that a major problem is that the NYPD’s training “actually leads officers to make unjustified stops.”

“The letter of the law is that officers are only supposed to stop people when they have objective, reasonable suspicion that they have engaged or are about to engage in unlawful activity,” Karteron explained. “It is not suspicious to simply walk in and out of a Clean Halls building.”

The injunction applies specifically to the Bronx, as that is where the attorneys found the problems to be most severe. As of July 2012, there were 8,032 buildings enrolled in Clean Halls citywide, 3,261 of which were in the Bronx.

Karteron said that this is the first decision ordering an injunction against the NYPD for their stop and frisk practices.

Decline to Prosecute Affidavits

Judge Scheindlin also based her decision off of 26 “decline to prosecute” affidavits that the plaintiffs provided as evidence. The DA’s office produces these forms after interviewing an officer or witness and declining to prosecute the case.

These are affidavits describing two such instances:

1. Arresting Officer . . . observed both defendants exit the lobby of . . . a Clean Halls Apartment Building and asked defendants what was their purpose inside of said building and defendant [redacted] stated in sum and substance: I WAS VISITING MY COUSIN [redacted] IN [redacted] but defendant [redacted] remained silent. [Another officer] entered the building to investigate further, however, the arresting officer was unable to articulate how [the other officer] disproved [the speaking defendant’s] claim. [Both defendants were arrested for trespass.]

2. Defendants entered . . . a clean halls building, and exited. Defendant was stopped outside of the location. When the arresting officer questioned the defendant, defendant stated, in sum and substance, I’M JUST CHILLING. Defendant did not admit that he was in the location. [The defendant was then arrested for trespass.]


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