Jazz Hayden and the Fight Against Stop-and-Frisk

An unlikely activist's battle with the NYPD's frisky business

If each case settles for a minimum of $10,000, that's at least $4 million in cost to taxpayers, not including the cost to the police department in work hours assembling the documents and removing cops from the street to be deposed, and the cost to the corporation counsel in paying lawyers to defend those cases. One wonders how much money the city is willing to spend on this litigation just to stick with the police commissioner's campaign. (We asked the city law department this question but did not receive a response.)

The people who filed suit last month appear to come from all walks of life—an auto mechanic, two high school students, a commuter, a Transit Authority worker, a guy walking home with a bag full of dog food. In all of the cases, the criminal charges, if any, were dismissed.

Take Francis Destouche, for example. Destouche, a 53-year-old auto mechanic with a clean record, was walking home in the Bronx in October 2011 when he was stopped for no apparent reason by police. They searched him, found nothing, and then accused him of "throwing something away." He was arrested, held for 20 hours, and missed his granddaughter's birth. The charges were dismissed. Destouche's lawyer, Paul Mills, alleges that the stop and the arrest were a result of the NYPD's "quota policy."

The majority of New Yorkers targeted in stop-and-frisks are young black and Hispanic males. “Harlem is turning into an open-air prison, a minimum-security prison, and the people think it’s normal,” Hayden says.
Lyric Cabral
The majority of New Yorkers targeted in stop-and-frisks are young black and Hispanic males. “Harlem is turning into an open-air prison, a minimum-security prison, and the people think it’s normal,” Hayden says.
Hayden visits the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, where his arresting officers work.
Lyric Cabral
Hayden visits the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, where his arresting officers work.

"This arrest cannot be explained by any of the common categories of false arrest," Mills says. "He's not even smoking a cigarette. So, if you eliminate the other possibilities, there's no other way to explain it other than it was for the quota."

Mills says Destouche decided to sue because missing his granddaughter's birth was significant. "There are people out there for whom at his advanced age, after a lifetime of respect for the police, to suddenly be abducted and jailed for 20 hours is very upsetting. It was a big deal to him."

Or consider the case of "M.S.," a 16-year-old Staten Island youth who says he was stopped for walking down the street, detained, and searched. His backpack was searched. He was physically restrained. Charges were eventually dismissed. The lawsuit goes on to quote at length from stop-and-frisk studies, which suggest a bias against young black and Hispanic males.

Scott Joyner was waiting for a bus in Brooklyn in June 2011 when he saw cops arresting two other people. An officer walked over and grabbed his arm but released him when he realized Joyner was just standing at the bus stop. Joyner walked to a pay phone to file a 311 complaint, and there he was arrested, he alleges, for trying to make a complaint. Charges were dismissed.

In January 2011, Jamie Jarrett was walking down a Brooklyn street when a van of cops rolled up and began searching him. They found no weapons or drugs. The officers refused to explain why they were placing him under arrest. The charge of marijuana sale was dismissed, but not before Jarrett spent 48 hours in custody.

Kenrick Gray, 32, of Staten Island, claims he was falsely stopped, searched, and detained twice in late 2010, the second time resulting in false arrest. His lawyer alleges racial profiling led to the stops.

Likewise, Jarrett Savage claims he was illegally stopped and frisked in October 2010 in Brooklyn. He was pushed against a wall, searched, and taken to the precinct, where he was strip-searched in front of another prisoner. The charges were dismissed eventually. "This is not an isolated incident," the lawsuit alleges. "The city is aware that many police officers are insufficiently trained to stop, detain, arrest, and strip-search individuals."

Ramon Morales says he was cleaning his car outside his sister's house on Cabrini Boulevard in Manhattan in August 2009 when cops stopped him for no apparent reason, accused him of drug possession, and searched him and the car. They found no drugs but charged him with a DWI, even though he wasn't driving. Eighteen court appearances and nearly two years later, the charges were dismissed. And Morales claims someone stole stuff from his car while it was in police custody.

Daryl George, a 36-year-old transit worker who had never been arrested, sued this month following a questionable stop in January 2011. George says he was talking with a friend about buying an iPod in the lobby of a Brooklyn building when police came in, ordered everyone against the wall, and searched them. George didn't have any contraband, though someone else in the lobby did. George was arrested anyway, and though the charges were dismissed and the case was sealed, he was suspended by the Transit Authority and lost five months' pay and benefits.

Kevin Adams claimed he was illegally searched and arrested in February 2010 in the lobby of the Brooklyn building where he lives with his mother. Later that day—the arrest took place at 10 a.m.—they released him because the district attorney declined to prosecute, but not before he was roughed up and strip-searched in a police van.

Gregory Pope also sued last month. He claims he was walking on Coney Island in August 2011 when he was jumped by four plainclothes officers. They searched him. He told them they couldn't just search him for no reason. After that, they arrested him and strip-searched him at the precinct. The police also took his car to the precinct, where they searched it and caused a range of damage. Pope was held in the precinct for a day and then, inexplicably, released without charges.

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