NYC Police Can Continue Stop-and-Frisk During Appeal

A federal judge said the New York City Police Department can continue to make “trespass” stops outside of privately owned buildings in the Bronx after previously ruling that the practice may be unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan today agreed to halt immediate enforcement of her Jan. 8 ruling ordering the NYPD to cease its “stop-and-frisk” practices while the city appeals. She also denied a request by the city to postpone the trial of a related case scheduled to begin in March.

“Despite my reservations regarding the likelihood of defendants’ success on appeal, however, I recognize that reversal is always a possibility,” Scheindlin said today.

“The opinion acknowledges at the outset that many of the questions raised by stop-and-frisk are not easily answered and that it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters.”

The Jan. 8 ruling followed a hearing held by Scheindlin from Oct. 15 to Nov. 7 in a lawsuit filed last year by a group of black and Latino residents challenging police stops of individuals outside buildings enrolled in the city’s Trespass Affidavit Program, or TAP.

‘Clean Halls’

TAP, formerly called “Operation Clean Halls,” permits the police to patrol participating buildings. Scheindlin found that officers were violating the civil liberties of residents and visitors by stopping, frisking and questioning them without sufficient cause to believe they were trespassing.

The city has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan to overturn Scheindlin’s Jan. 8 ruling in a case called Ligon v. City of New York. The judge said the Jan. 8 order will remain lifted during the city’s appeal until she issues rulings in related cases.

In letters to Scheindlin sent on Jan. 14 and Jan. 17, the city said it was appealing her ruling and asked that she grant a request to immediately halt to enforcement of her Jan. 8 order. The city called the judge’s ruling “unduly burdensome,” and “inconsistent” with current NYPD training practices.

The city also argued the public’s safety was at stake because officers following the Jan. 8 order “may not act when they see suspicious behavior falling short of reasonable suspicion.”

‘Sewn Confusion’

City lawyers told the judge that her 147-page opinion in the Ligon case had “sewn confusion” over U.S. laws governing police stops “making it at a minimum impossible for defendants to advise police officers how to comply” with the court order. The city said that unless its request was granted, the NYPD would be required to take the immediate and burdensome step of having to retrain its police officers.

“We believe the court correctly lifted the immediate relief it had ordered in Ligon,” Heidi Grossman, a city lawyer, said today in a separate statement.

Scheindlin described the Ligon case as the most narrow of the three court challenges to stop-and-frisk policies in New York. A separate suit targeting all such police stops citywide is scheduled for jury selection on March 11. Another seeks to end alleged rights violations in trespass stops in public housing.

‘Strong Criticism’

“The judge’s ruling today affirmed her very strong criticism of the city’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy, and it may well expedite the final remedy process for dealing with the abuse of stop-and-frisk for all New Yorkers in a more efficient way,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman.

The case scheduled for trial in March was brought by David Floyd, a black man who alleges that NYPD has a “suspicionless” stop-and-frisk policy that violates the rights of citizens. The complaint was filed in January 2008 as a class-action, or group, lawsuit.

“After five years of preparation, the trial is scheduled to begin in less than two months,” Scheindlin said in her order today. “It would be unfair and inappropriate to delay the case any further.”

Scheindlin said today her decision allowing what she called “a longstanding unconstitutional practice” to persist for a few months while she determines an appropriate remedy is “quite distinct” from allowing such a practice to continue during years of litigation.

The case is Ligon v. City of New York, 12-cv-02274, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).