The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the NYPD from maintaining a database filled with hundreds of thousands of names of people stopped and frisked by the police, the Voice has learned.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has admitted that the database is used in criminal investigations — even though the vast majority of people on the list, about 90 percent, committed no crime, the lawsuit states.
Under New York law, the records of a summons or arrest must be sealed unless a person is convicted of or pleads guilty to a misdemeanor or felony. However, the complaint says, the NYPD is refusing to seal that information.
“As a result, a huge number of law-abiding people — most of whom are black and Latino — are being treated as criminal suspects,” the lawsuit asserts. “The NYPD’s stop and frisk database is a gross violation of the privacy interests of millions of New Yorkers.”
Since 2003, the lawsuit says, New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked nearly 3 million times, resulting in 360,000 arrests and summonses. A large number of those were either dismissed or led to payment of a small fine. The law requires that police records in those instances must be sealed.
The filing of the lawsuit comes on the heels of a series of articles in the Voice that exposed questionable practices in the NYPD. Stop-and-frisks are supposed to be done on the basis of reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is about to be committed, but the Voice series documented that precinct commanders ordered patrol officers to do stop-and-frisks simply for the purpose of hitting statistical demands from police headquarters.
In particular, the NYCLU lawsuit cites the case of Daryl Khan, a former Newsday reporter who was stopped and frisked in Brooklyn. Legal papers say that Khan, 35, the father of twins, was stopped in Bedford-Stuyvesant on October 7, 2009. Two cops pulled up in a van and accused him of riding his bike on the sidewalk.
The officers detained Khan for 30 minutes. They demanded to know where he lived and why he was in the neighborhood. He declined to tell them where he lived, and said he “knew his rights and cared about protecting them,” the lawsuit states. The officers responded by dragging him from his bicycle, throwing him against the side of a van, and handcuffing him. Then his pockets were searched.
The officers wrote him two tickets: for disorderly conduct and riding his bike on the sidewalk — two charges, by the way, that were also cited by Bed-Stuy residents in the Voice series as questionable tactics. Khan was detained for 45 minutes without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Both summonses were dismissed.
The lawsuit also cites the case of Clive Lino, 29, of Harlem. He works with special needs children in a group home. Lino, the lawsuit says, was stopped at least 13 times between February 2008 and August 2009.
He started documenting the stops and making repeated complaints to various government agencies. In one notable example, he and his cousin were stopped by cops in the Bronx, thrown against a wall, and searched. Police gave him a summons for spitting in public and possessing an open container. Both summonses were later dismissed, and a judge issued the standard sealing order in the case.
Kelly’s letter, which was written to Councilman Peter Vallone in June 2009, states that the database of names “is a tool for investigators to utilize in the subsequent location and apprehension of criminal suspects,” and the personal information would remain in the database “indefinitely, for use in future investigations.” Vallone has objected to the NYPD keeping the database on privacy and legal grounds.