Closing Arguments Made in New York ‘Stop and Frisk’ Class Action

police misconduct

The ten week ‘stop and frisk’ bench trial before Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin has now come to a close. The case is a class action relating to nineteen stop and frisk incidents which occurred in New York City. During closing arguments, attorney Gretchen Hoff Varner on behalf of the plaintiffs stated that police officers were using ‘race as a proxy for reasonable suspicion.’ She claimed that the stop and frisk policy had left people scared to leave their homes and that victimising black and Latino residents had violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. These assertions were rebutted by Heidi Grossman, deputy chief of the City Law Department’s Special Federal Litigation Division, who argued that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that New York City Police Officers had violated the United States Constitution by stopping and frisking young males of color without having prior suspicion that they had committed a crime.

Throughout the proceedings, Grossman denied the plaintiffs’ assertion that the New York Police Department has a quota system for stop and frisk, claiming that the Department has performance goals only. Grossman also addressed a central piece of the plaintiffs’ evidence – a taped statement of Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack telling Officer Pedro Serrano to stop and frisk black male aged 14 to 20 or 21. Grossman told the judge that McCormack’s remarks related to limited resources and the crime conditions that were found. He said that McCormack was telling the officer to target this particular group of individuals because grand larcenies and robberies were being committed by black males aged 14-21.

Grossman claimed that the plaintiffs’ testimony was unreliable and unclear and that they failed to prove that the police were operating a top-down policy in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. She claimed that the police practices clearly corresponded with the crime rate and demographics of individual neighborhoods and that the stop and frisk policy and practices did not amount to a constitutional violation. Grossman claimed that all nineteen stops described from the witness stand had no racial incentive whatsoever and that the plaintiffs had failed to show a widespread practice or pattern.

Another issue in the case related to a request for a court appointed monitor to supervise reform of the City’s practices. Judge Scheindlin asked what the response would be if there was an expert who was solely responsible for the issues faced in the present case as opposed to someone who looked at the police department as a whole. Interestingly, the U.S. Justice Department have since become involved in the case, stating that a court monitor for the New York City Police Department would assist in implementing reform should Judge Scheindlin find in favour of the plaintiffs. In a statement of interest filed with the judge, the U.S. Justice Department said that it would support a decision to appoint a monitor to ensure compliance with any policy reform.

Judge Scheindlin is expected to issue her ruling later this summer. The plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that in order to uphold justice and restore the rule of law, the stop and frisk policy must be deemed unconstitutional. Whatever the decision from Judge Scheindlin, it is clear that hundreds of blacks and Hispanics have felt mistreated by the stop and frisk practice, indicating that a fundamental divide continues to grow between New York Police Officers and the minorities in New York.