Police officers are violating the Fourth Amendment rights of people stopped on suspicion of trespass as they walk into and out of privately owned buildings that participate in a Bronx anti-crime program, a federal judge ruled yesterday.
Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin (See Profile) issued a preliminary injunction ordering police "immediately to cease performing trespass stops" without reasonable suspicion of actual trespass at thousands of buildings whose owners have given police permission to patrol their property pursuant to the Trespass Affidavit Program, or TAP.
"I conclude that plaintiffs have shown a clear likelihood of proving that defendants have displayed deliberate indifference toward a widespread practice of unconstitutional trespass stops by the NYPD outside of TAP buildings in the Bronx," Scheindlin said in Ligon v. City of New York, 12-cv-2274.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in a statement yesterday said: "Some may 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. Their landlords explicitly requested this extra level of protection. The NYPD is fully committed to doing so in a manner that respects the constitutional rights of residents and visitors. Today's decision unnecessarily interferes with the department's efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep Clean Halls buildings safe and secure."
Scheindlin's decision, the latest in a series of rulings in hotly contested litigation over the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policies, comes after a hearing in October and November during which Scheindlin heard from individual plaintiffsall either black or Latinowho claimed they had done nothing wrong and were stopped without reasonable suspicion as they entered or exited a TAP building.
More than 5,000 buildings in the Bronx subscribe to the program, formerly know as Operation Clean Halls, an initiative designed to curb drug sales and other crimes in private buildings in high-crime areas.
"In sum, while it may be difficult to say where, 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 TAP buildings in the Bronx," Scheindlin said. "For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of friends and families, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat."
Scheindlin also heard from Bronx Assistant District Attorney Jeannette Rucker, who testified that NYPD officers treated proximity to a TAP building as a factor contributing to reasonable suspicion and said her office has declined to prosecute some cases based solely on that factor.
In her 157-page opinion, Scheindlin credited Rucker's testimony as well as evidence on decline-to-prosecute forms and UF-250sreports on which officers detail, among other things, the time, place and basis for stops.
"These stops were made because the building was enrolled in TAP, and they were not based on any reasonable suspicion of trespass," Scheindlin wrote. "ADA Rucker's testimony is corroborated by the accounts of stops and arrests in twenty-six decline to prosecute forms, as well as by the hundreds of UF-250s on which the officers wrote 'Clean Halls' as a justification for a stop."