CLARKSTOWN, New York (WABC) -- Five people are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Town of Clarkstown in Rockland County.
All five are members of the group Black Lives Matter and the say a secret unit in the police department conducted illegal surveillance on them, treating them as if they were gang members or drug dealers.
"When I found out that we had been surveilled another part of my heart was taken," said Vanessa Green, the plaintiff.
Green and Jerlyne Colixte along with three other members of Black Lives Matter in Rockland County claim in a federal lawsuit that they were illegally targeted for surveillance, sometimes at rallies, based on their race and critical commentary of the treatment of people of color by police.
"That was the reason, that what they did was illegal, that's the reason we brought this lawsuit," said William Wagstaff, defense attorney.
In their complaint filed in federal district court in White Plains, the members allege, "The Clarkstown Police Department attended peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies intimidating the plaintiffs by positioning snipers on rooftops."
One rally was held in Nyack and another was held in Clarkstown in July of 2016.
"In Clarkstown they actually set up a tripod and put a camera on it. And we were like 'Oh!' But we still did our rally being taped," Green said.
"When Black Lives Matter meets, when we rally, when we affirm that our lives matter, that's a movement toward democracy," Colixte said.
The members also allege: "Black Lives Matter members were targeted by the Clarkstown Police Department Strategic Intelligence Unit (SIU) without reasonable suspicion that they individually, or as a group were planning or actually engaged in any criminal activity."
"These are all things that are illegal unless you have a legitimate police purpose. Unless you are under suspicion, have reasonable cause," Wagstaff said.
The members allege that SIU reports indicate: "The Black Lives Matter Movement was one of the groups subject of electronic surveillance, along with such categories as gangs, violence, terrorism, heroin initiative and police riots."
"The most heart wrenching thing was to find out that we were sandwiched in between in some of the reports between terrorists and drug dealers," Green said.
The Clarkstown attorney says he has not been served with the complaint and cannot respond until he is able to thoroughly examine it.
Black Lives Matter members file civil rights lawsuit against Town of Clarkstown
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