Lawsuit Charges Unlawful Digital Stop-and-Frisk in NYC

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New York City plainclothes officers often leave unmarked cars to stop mostly Blacks and Latinos and demand their IDs, charges a federal class-action lawsuit. In cases cited in the lawsuit, officers stopped and searched people in mostly poor communities, then, even after finding no unlawful items on them, demanded to see identification. Officers sometimes told the suspects that they were looking for guns and ran their IDs to search for arrest warrants or possibly matches in other law enforcement databases, including ones tracking alleged gang affiliation or connections to open cases. Police ran those checks without any basis or reasonable suspicion, making temporary detentions and digital searches unconstitutional, the lawsuit claims, The Intercept reports. “By exploiting surveillance technology, the NYPD has replaced traditional — and largely discredited — police practices such as stop-and-frisk with invasive digital searches that rely on surveillance systems,” the complaint says.

“They have nothing besides the fact that these are young men in certain neighborhoods,” said Cyrus Joubin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, arguing that the practice violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches, and the 14th, which prohibits racial discrimination. “They have at most a baseless hunch and they’re just going on a fishing expedition.” The practice appears to be sanctioned by the police department, the lawsuit notes, with officers sometimes telling the individuals they stopped that they were just “following procedure.” The lawsuit accuses department officials of failing to train and supervise officers on the legality of these searches.  “It’s just common practice for them to run warrant checks on the vast majority of people whom they stop,” said Molly Griffard of the Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project.

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