Lawsuit challenges stop-and-frisk policy

May 7, 2008 4:20:02 PM PDT
A civil rights group has filed a lawsuit challenging the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. The New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit lists New York Post reporter Leonardo Blair as the sole plaintiff, saying he was stopped and frisked by police officers as he walked from his car to his Bronx home last November.

He was taken to a police station, where officers expressed surprise that though he was black, he was not from "the projects," the lawsuit said. Blair, 28, has a master's degree from Columbia University.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said the NYPD has stopped people in New York nearly 1 million times over the last two years. It said more than half of the people targeted were black, and some 90 percent were either black or Latino.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show 25 percent of the city's population is black, 28 percent is Hispanic and 44 percent is white.

The lawsuit asks that the stop-and-frisk practice be declared unconstitutional and that Blair be awarded unspecified compensatory damages.

Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a city law department spokeswoman, said, "We are awaiting the legal papers and will review them thoroughly."

"Leo Blair was handcuffed and hauled to a precinct house for simply walking down the street," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Walking while black is not a crime, and yet every year hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are stopped, searched and interrogated by the police for doing just that."

According to the lawsuit, Blair was released shortly after he told the arresting officers that he was a Post reporter and had a master's degree. He was issued two summonses that were later dismissed - one for disobeying a lawful order and another for making an "unreasonable noise."

The lawsuit said the arrest is particularly troublesome for Blair because he is an immigrant and any arrest, even an unfounded one, must be reported on immigration and visa applications.

According to the lawsuit, nearly 90 percent of the people stopped in 2006 and 2007 were engaged in lawful activity and were neither arrested nor issued a summons. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of those who were stopped got frisked, according to the NYCLU.

Last year, the police department hired the Rand Corp. research group to examine its history of stopping and frisking people for evidence of racial bias after the number of its searches increased fivefold since 2002.

The report appeared to exonerate the NYPD, saying that the raw data "distorts the magnitude and, at times, the existence of racially biased policing" by the 36,000-officer department.

The police department has said the stops are consistent proportionately with descriptions provided by victims of violent crime.