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Judge rules stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, discriminatory

Judge Shira Scheindlin's ruling in the landmark stop and frisk case will instate a lawyer as a judicial monitor over the NYPD.

David Ourlicht, one of the main plaintiffs in the landmark stop-and-frisk trial, got choked up at a press conference following a federal judge ruling the practice unconstitutional and discriminatory. Credit: Miles Dixon David Ourlicht, one of the main plaintiffs in the landmark stop-and-frisk trial, got choked up at a press conference following a federal judge ruling the practice unconstitutional and discriminatory. Credit: Miles Dixon

The ruling from this year's landmark stop-and-frisk trial is in: Judge Shira Scheindlin has declared the practice unconstitutional.

She has also taken the practical step that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have staunchly opposed and stop-and-frisk defenders have feared, instituting a federal monitor with oversight over the NYPD.

The rulings are available on the Center for Constitutional Rights' website.

The case, Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., was argued by city attorneys and CCR lawyers over two months earlier this year.

Scheindlin heard testimony from dozens of men of color recounting what they and the CCR deemed unreasonable and unwarranted — and ultimately humiliating — stops.

She also heard from NYPD officers called by the city to defend and justify the controversial practice.

In her ruling, Scheindlin landed on the side of those who were stopped, deeming the stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects the right to due process and equal protection under the law.

Scheindlin also charged that city officials "turned a blind eye" to the concrete evidence of racial discrimination by cops conducting stops.

"In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective," Scheindlin wrote, "they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting 'the right people' is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution."

To address those constitutional violations, Scheindlin ordered several measures "including, but not limited to, an immediate change to certain policies and activities of the NYPD" as well as a "trial program" involving the use of small cameras to be worn by police officers.

She also ordered a "community-based joint remedial process to be conducted by a court-appointed facilitator" as well as an "independent monitor" with oversight over the NYPD to ensure her other mandates are carried out as ordered.

Proponents of the two "community safety act" bills in the City Council, one calling for an inspector general with oversight of the NYPD and the other expanding anti-profiling protections, said Scheindlin's ruling won't have any bearing on those bills because they address broader issues beyond solely stop-and-frisk.

Bloomberg vowed the city will appeal the ruling, but according to Baher Azmy, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a "technical consideration" means the appeal can't come immediately because of the multifaceted remedies ordered in Scheindlin's ruling.

"Typically you can't appeal until... the decision is final, and because there that the district judge is going to do in this case, they probably can't yet appeal," Azmy said.

But Bloomberg said the city will ask the court to stay the decision for the duration of the appeal, so the measures Scheindlin proposed may not be seen for some time.

That technicality didn't dampen the spirits of the plaintiffs, however: several of the men who testified in the trial about being stopped and frisked spoke at an emotional press conference after the ruling, with one of the lead plaintiffs, David Ourlicht, tearing up at one point.

The plaintiffs expressed hope the decision could result in even more far-reaching changes to the NYPD.

"Many of us feel that this is important because this is the lowest form of police abuse," said Lalit Clarkson, who testified in the trial about being stopped by plainclothes cops on his way to school. "If we can stop this, maybe we can stop some of the higher forms."

UPDATE: The City Law Department said they are reviewing the decision to determine whether there is justification to appeal immediately as well as what part or parts of the decision warrant an appeal.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat

 
 
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