A key part of the NYPD’s controversial “stop and frisk” tactic has been ruled unconstitutional.
Manhattan Federal Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered police to refrain from making trespass stops outside private residential buildings — even though the landlord has given officers permission to do so as part of the NYPD’s “Clean Halls” program.
"While it may be difficult to say when 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 buildings," Scheindlin wrote in a 157-page ruling.
The New York Civil Liberties Union argued in an eight-day hearing in October that “Clean Halls,” which exists only in the Bronx, leads to people being hassled by cops and sometimes cuffed near their own abode for no legitimate reason.
The NYCLU’s legal challenge centers on the case of Jaenean Ligon.
In August 2011 the mother of three sent her 17-year-old son to buy ketchup for the family’s dinner.
Two plaintclothes cops stopped the teen outside the family’s building on E. 163rd St. in the Bronx. Two uniformed officers also arrived on the scene.
After frisking the youngster, one of the cops buzzed Ligon’s apartment and asked she come downstairs to identify her son. Ligon testified the request sent her into a panic because she feared the worst — that her son had been seriously hurt or killed.
NYCLU lawyers argued that Ligon’s experience was all too common in high-crime neighborhoods in the Bronx where the “Clean Halls” program is in place.
At least one Bronx prosecutor, Jeannette Rucker, expressed skepticism about the legality of the practice, as well.
Rucker notified the NYPD in July of last year that her office would no longer rubber-stamp trespassing arrests made outside Clean Halls buildings and public housing projects unless the arresting officer was interviewed.
In addition to immediately halting such trespass stops in the Bronx, Scheindlin ordered a Jan. 31 hearing to determine what other relief should be granted.
"For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our own homes or those of our friend and family, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat,” she wrote.
Two other stop and frisk cases are pending.