Judge rules 200,000 police searches were unconstitutional

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(CNN) — A federal judge ruled Monday that the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy violates the Constitution, in part by unlawfully targeting blacks and Latinos.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, ruling on a class-action lawsuit, wrote that the policy violated plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights barring unreasonable searches, finding that police made at least 200,000 stops from 2004 to June 2012 without reasonable suspicion.

She also found evidence of racial profiling, violating plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights guaranteeing equal protection.

The Police Department had said that the policy — in which police stop, question and frisk people they considered suspicious — was used to deter crime.

“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” she wrote. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory and therefore violates the United States Constitution.”

Then, coupling Monday’s ruling with a similar decision in January, she ordered that the policy be altered so that stops are based on reasonable suspicion and in a racially neutral manner. An outside monitor will be appointed to oversee changes.

The lawsuit, filed in 2008, went to trial for nine weeks this spring. The lead plaintiff in the case was David Floyd, a medical student who was stopped twice — once in the middle of the afternoon when he was in front of his home in the Bronx, according to the suit.

In her ruling, Scheindlin said more than 80% of the stops involved blacks or Hispanics. The NYPD made more than 4.4 million total stops under the policy from 2004 to June 2012.

She wrote that the NYPD carried out more stops where there were more black and Hispanic residents, at a rate disproportionate with crime rates. She also wrote that the department has an unwritten policy of targeting “the right people” for stops — encouraging, in practice, the targeting of young blacks and Hispanics based on their prevalence in local crime complaints.

“No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” she wrote. “Those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color, and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract the unwanted attention.”

The trial, which ended in May, included testimony from men who said police stopped them for no reason and from police officers who say quotas forced them to make unnecessary stops.

Closing arguments gave conflicting accounts of stop-and-frisk incidents. While attorneys for the city argued that one man was stopped because he appeared to be smoking marijuana, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that he was simply talking on a cell phone.

Another man was reportedly stopped because he fit the description of a wanted man in a high-crime area with a recent string of burglaries, but the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that he was more than a mile from where the burglaries occurred and that the last burglary in that area occurred more than 25 days earlier.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Police Department logged its 5 millionth stop-and-frisk under Mayor Michael Bloomberg in March.

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