On September 18, 2003, the City of New York agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that charged the New York Police Department with engaging in illegal racial profiling practices in stop and frisk situations. The out-of-court agreement between the City and the Center for Constitutional Rights in Daniels v. City of New York was announced at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin.
The Street Crime Unit (SCU) was an elite commando unit of over 300 police officers that patrolled the streets of the City at night in unmarked cars and in plain clothes. In February 1999, a team of four SCU officers killed Amadou Diallo, a law-abiding African immigrant, as he was standing in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building, by firing 41 bullets at him. This led to the disclosure that the SCU routinely confronted tens of thousands of City residents without a good basis to believe that a crime had been committed. In just two years, 1997 and 1998, 35,000 of the 45,000 stops and frisks reported by the SCU did not result in an arrest. A statistical analysis revealed that the SCU stopped 16 African-Americans for every arrest made.
In March 1999, CCR filed a class action lawsuit requesting an injunction to bar the SCU from unconstitutionally stopping and frisking New York City residents and seeking damages for the illegal stops. The lawsuit alleged that SCU officers stopped and frisked people of color without the reasonable suspicion of criminal activity required by the Fourth Amendment, and that the officers selectively targeted the plaintiffs and the class on the basis of their race and national origin in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The controversy over the Diallo killing and the pending lawsuit undoubtedly played a major role in the decision of the NYPD to disband the SCU and institute other reforms. Among the key procedures changed while the case was in progress was an order issued last year by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly banning racial profiling. The settlement agreement incorporates this order and makes it legally binding on the over 36,000 NYC police officers. “This is a very significant settlement for the people of New York,” said CCR Legal Director Jeffrey Fogel. “For the first time in history there will be a court order that prohibits all officers in the NYPD from engaging in racial profiling.”
Other terms of the settlement agreement include a requirement that the NYPD audit the officers and supervisors who engage in stop and frisks to determine whether and to what extent the stop and frisks are based on reasonable suspicion and whether and to what extent the stops and frisks are being documented. The results of these audits are to be supplied to counsel for the plaintiffs. The City will pay CCR and an independent auditor to monitor compliance by conducting a quarterly review of all stop and frisks. Questionable situations will be referred to Judge Scheindlin. This oversight will continue through 2007. The NYPD has also agreed to pay a total $167,500 to the ten named plaintiffs in the case. A fairness hearing, to allow members of the class to present any objections to the settlement, is scheduled for November 25, 2003.
William Goodman, former Legal Director of CCR, and now with the firm of Moore and Goodman, was lead counsel on the case. CCR Senior Litigation Attorney Nancy Chang, Cooperating Attorney Jonathan Moore of the law firm Moore and Gioodman, Cooperating Attorney Robert Van Lierop of the law firm Van Lierop, Burns & Bassett and the law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton were the other attorneys on the litigation team, which also included legal worker Janice Badalutz.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.