Ligon V. City Of New York: Important Part Of NYPD Stop And Frisk Program Declared Likely To Be Unconstitutional

In an important lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court, several individuals who have been stopped and frisked by police officers in the Bronx successfully argued that part of the NYPD’s infamous Stop and Frisk program is probably unconstitutional. Specifically, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin recently issued a detailed, 156-page ruling in which she decided that the NYPD’s practice and policy of stopping individuals outside of privately-owned buildings enrolled in the Bronx DA’s Trespass Affidavit Program—or “TAP” for short—violates citizens’ constitutional rights.

TAP is a part of Operation Clean Halls, which is a citywide program implemented by the NYPD with the goal of fighting crime that takes place in and around residential buildings. But citizens throughout the City often complain that police officers abuse the program by stopping and frisking minorities—who make up the vast majority of people stopped and frisked—aggressively and often for no reason other than race.

Judge Scheindlin heard nine witnesses testify about their encounters with police officers and also listened to an expert testify about the NYPD’s training programs; rules and guidelines, and practices related to the TAP program; and about his examination of thousands of forms completed by police officers that describe specific stop and frisk encounters. In short, the Judge determined that all nine witnesses testified credibly about constitutionally invalid stops by the NYPD—and she pointed out numerous specific NYPD training videos, orders, and written policies that teach police officers incorrect, illegal and unconstitutional practices and policies.

The evidence left her convinced “that [the] plaintiffs have shown a clear likelihood of proving that [the] defendants have displayed deliberate indifference toward a widespread practice of unconstitutional trespass stops by the NYPD outside TAP buildings in the Bronx” (p. 9). “Because any member of the public could conceivably find herself outside a TAP building in the Bronx,” the Judge concluded, “the public at large has a liberty and dignity interest in bringing an end to the practice of unconstitutional stops at issue in this case” (p. 139).

As part of her decision, Judge Scheindlin issued what is called an injunction: she ordered the NYPD to “immediately […] cease performing trespass stops outside TAP buildings in the Bronx without reasonable suspicion of trespass, in accordance with the law” (p. 142), and also ordered specific corrections to the incorrect NYPD training materials.

This injunction was delayed so that the case can be appealed to the Second Circuit Court in Manhattan. But if Judge Scheindlin’s decision holds up, it will mark a turning point in the battle over the many elements of the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program, and also an important victory for advocates of the law-abiding community members who are routinely and wrongfully harassed by NYPD officers.

It is important to note that no matter what happens in this case, specific individuals who have been illegally victimized by police misconduct during a Stop and Frisk encounter are and will remain entitled to compensation. If you are a victim of police misconduct of any kind, it is critical that you speak with an attorney who can help you fight for your rights.