Wall Street Journal
January 30, 2014

 

City Moves to Drop Stop-Frisk Appeal

Motion Filed Thursday Seeks Term Limit for the Federal Monitor

By SEAN GARDINER and MICHAEL HOWARD SAUL

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city is moving to end its appeal of a ruling that found the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk tactic unconstitutional and is ready to accept a federal monitor to oversee the practice.

In an agreement that would fulfill a campaign promise for Mr. de Blasio, the city is asking that the appeal be sent back to a lower court, where lawyers will seek approval for a three-year term limit for the federal monitor imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin's ruling in August.

Challenging Stop-and-Frisk

Jan. 31, 2008 – A lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's use of stop and frisk is filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and David Floyd, a black medical student from the Bronx who said he was stopped and searched by police outside his home as he tried to help a neighbor find his keys.

May 16, 2012 – The Floyd lawsuit is allowed to move forward as a class-action suit.

March 18, 2013 – The Floyd lawsuit goes to trial.

Aug. 11, 2013 -- U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin rules that NYPD's stop-and-frisk practices are unconstitutional and orders the creation of an independent monitor to oversee the policy.

Oct. 30, 2013 -- The federal Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals removes Judge Scheindlin from the case, saying she had compromised her impartiality.

Nov. 9, 2013 -- New York City attorneys ask the federal appeals court to throw out Judge Scheindlin's earlier ruling.

Nov. 13, 2013 -- The Second Circuit rules that it hasn't found any misconduct or unethical behavior on Judge Scheindlin's part.

Nov. 22, 2013 -- The Second Circuit denies the city's request to have the case thrown out.

Jan. 30, 2014 -- New York City announces plans to drop its appeal of the federal court's ruling and agrees to allow an independent monitor.

-- Source: Staff reports, Center for Constitutional Rights

 
 

After that time, the responsibility of monitoring stop and frisk would fall to the NYPD's inspector general, a new position that has yet to be filled. The appeal would be dropped after the new agreement—which has the support of the lawsuit's plaintiffs—is ratified, officials said.

"We are here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city," Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference in a Brooklyn neighborhood that had one of the highest rates of police stops.

Mr. de Blasio, who was elected in a landslide in November after pledging to break from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's policies, including police tactics, said the shorter window of monitoring was sought "because of our administration's explicit commitment to reform."

Critics of stop and frisk have accused the NYPD of unfairly targeting Latinos and blacks, who have made up more than 80% of those stopped. In the last three months of the Bloomberg administration, after Judge Scheindlin's ruling, the number of stops dropped drastically, averaging about 5,000 stops a month.

In 2011, the year the most stops were made, the NYPD averaged 57,000 stops a month.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said about 3,000 people had been stopped since he took office this month. Mr. Bratton said he wouldn't use the term "quotas" to describe the pressure that officers under the previous administration were under to make stops, but said: "I think it's quite clear that the officers were being strongly encouraged" and "were expected to produce activity."

Mr. de Blasio likewise said that through the stop-and-frisk trial, "We got a window into the situation and what we saw was something where there was, obviously, an incessant push for officers to make stops regardless of the impact of the results writ large of those stops."

Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Mr. Bloomberg and Judge Scheindlin declined to comment through spokespeople.

Four unions representing NYPD officers have filed appeals and motions opposing dismissal of the city's appeal, which are pending. Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the unions continue their appeals "in order to give voice to our members" and "ensure their rights are protected."

Over the 12-year tenure of Mr. Bloomberg, more than 5 million police stops were made; about 10% of those stopped were charged with a crime, statistics show.

Judge Scheindlin cited those statistics in her decision, which found that the way police were using stop and frisk in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits illegal searches and seizures, and the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is often invoked to fight laws seen as racially discriminatory.

In the ruling, which followed a nine-week civil trial on the legality of the stops, Judge Scheindlin ordered the installation of a monitor to oversee training. She also ordered other changes, including starting a pilot program in which police in some high stop-and-frisk precincts would be equipped with body cameras.

Saying the judge knew "absolutely zero" about police work, Mr. Bloomberg ordered the city's attorneys to appeal her ruling.

On Oct. 31, a three-judge panel from the Second Court of Appeals granted the city a stay on the stop-and-frisk remedies and ordered Judge Scheindlin removed from the case, ruling she "ran afoul" of the conduct code for judges by improperly assigning herself cases regarding stop-and-frisk and giving media interviews while the cases were ongoing.

Judge Scheindlin denied any wrongdoing and filed a motion asking to be allowed to defend herself. In denying that motion two weeks after its ruling, the federal appellate nevertheless clarified that it "made no findings that Judge Scheindlin has committed judicial misconduct, nor have we suggested that she has abdicated any of her ethical responsibilities."

Instead, they wrote that removing a judge from a case "is an ordinary tool used by our judicial system to maintain and promote the appearance of impartiality."

Judge Analisa Torres has been assigned to replace Judge Scheindlin.

After years of fighting the Bloomberg administration on the stop-and-frisk issue, Donna Lieberman, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called it "a good day" to be finally on the same side of stop-and-frisk with the mayor and police commissioner.

"Of course, we understand that the culture of largest police force in the country cannot change overnight but we all know that change starts with the message from the top and we believe in the good will and the good intentions of the new administration, " she said "What a change."

—Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this article.

Write to Sean Gardiner at sean.gardiner@wsj.com and Michael Howard Saul atmichael.saul@wsj.com