Project Residents Are Filing Big Suit Over Hundreds of Bogus Trespassing Charges

The latest development in a long-running battle between cops and public-housing residents who say the New York City Housing Authority is trampling on their rights is a federal lawsuit accusing the city of arresting hundreds of people — residents and their visitors — on bogus criminal-trespassing charges.

The class-action suit is expected to filed today by the Legal Aid Society of New York and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, along with lawyers from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The lawyers say they have at least 12 plaintiffs and have logged hundreds of cases in which residents and their friends have been targeted as "unauthorized persons."

Kelton Davis, a plaintiff in the suit who is wheelchair-bound and lives in public housing in East Harlem, tells the Voice that his friends are arrested so frequently after visiting him that he thought to put a sign on his door that said, "Someone was here." Davis, a musician whose friends tend to stay at his home late into the night, says, "I wait up when my friends leave, because I hate to go to bed and then get a call 10 minutes later from my friend saying a cop is accusing him of trespassing."

Many residents of the city's housing projects have bitterly complained about the Housing Authority's "vertical patrols," a tactic developed in the 1960s in which police conduct floor-to-floor sweeps of public housing buildings and systematically question those they encounter. Others say the patrols — the NYPD conducts about 150,000 annually — make them safer.

The suit is aimed at the Housing Authority and its police force, a separate branch of the NYPD.

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