At a Glance
In 1999, CCR filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to challenge the NYPD’s policy of conducting stop-and-frisks without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity as required by the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that officers selectively targeted them on the basis of their race and national origin in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs sought damages and a judgment declaring that the notorious (now disbanded) NYPD Street Crime Unit’s operations were unconstitutional and an order eliminating the SCU or barring it from continuing to make improper stop-and-frisks.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit (SCU) was an elite commando unit of more than 300 police officers that patrolled the streets at night in unmarked cars and in plain clothes. In February 1999, a team of four SCU officers killed unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo by firing 41 bullets at him as he was standing in the vestibule of his Bronx apartment building.
The death of Diallo ignited demonstrations across the City. One of the main forces in these demonstrations was the Coalition Against Police Brutality (CAPB). CAPB was a diverse coalition of New York City grassroots organizations who were fighting police brutality and misconduct in their communities. One of the principal organizations in CAPB, the National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights, which was led by community organizer Richie Perez, helped bring the Daniels case to CCR.
Shortly after this horrific shooting, the NYPD released statistics revealing that the SCU routinely invaded the privacy of tens of thousands of New York City residents, especially young men of color. In 1997 and 1998, 35,000 of the 45,000 stop-and-frisks reported by the SCU did not result in an arrest. The impact of these stops on African-Americans was particularly alarming. A statistical analysis of reported stop-and-frisks released by the New York State Attorney General in December 1999 revealed that the SCU stopped 16 African-Americans for every arrest made.
The defendants initially moved to dismiss the case, citing a 1983 Supreme Court decision, City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, which held that plaintiffs lack standing to sue for equitable relief unless they allege that they face a realistic threat of future injury from the policy under challenge. The court denied the motion to dismiss.
In a subsequent ruling, the court also refused to dismiss the plaintiffs’ equal protection clause claim and held that the plaintiffs had properly set forth an express racial classification by asserting that the SCU had a “policy, practice and/or custom of stopping and frisking [individuals] based solely on [their] race and/or national origin.”
While the case was in progress, the NYPD disbanded the SCU, a decision that was likely influenced by large anti-police brutality mobilizations after the Diallo killing and CCR’s lawsuit. In September 2003, after CCR had completed the depositions of top NYPD officials and had reviewed tens of thousands of pages of discovery, the City agreed to settle the case.
The settlement agreement, which was approved by Judge Scheindlin on December 12, 2003, requires the NYPD to maintain a written anti-racial profiling policy that complies with the U.S. and New York State Constitutions and is binding on all NYPD officers. In addition, it requires that the NYPD audit officers who engage in stop-and-frisks, and their supervisors, to determine whether and to what extent the stop-and-frisks are based on reasonable suspicion and whether and to what extent the stop-and-frisks are being documented. The results of these audits were to be provided to CCR on a quarterly basis. The NYPD was also required to engage in public education efforts, including joint public meetings with class members and representatives on its racial profiling policy, provide workshops at approximately 50 city high schools on the legal rights of those subjected to stop-and-frisks and develop handouts on these issues for distribution at these and other events. Judge Scheindlin maintained oversight over the settlement through 2007.
After significant non-compliance with the consent decree and after new information released publicly by the City showed a remarkable increase in stop-and-frisks over the past several years, CCR decided to file a new class-action lawsuit, Floyd, et al. v. The City of New York, et al.