In a ruling which could lead to a range of new lawsuits against the Police Department, a federal judge has refused to dismiss a claim filed by a gay man who says the NYPD targeted and arrested men in porn video stores in violation of their civil rights.
The judge in the case, Shira Scheindlin, has become something of a thorn in the side of the Bloomberg administration. Scheindlin presided over the landmark stop-and-frisk class-action lawsuit, which led to the unprecedented imposition of a monitor over the department.
Now, Scheindlin has ruled on the case of Robert Pinter, who for years has been involved in a campaign to stop the NYPD from hanging around gay video stores and arresting men on prostitution charges merely for frequenting the shops.
Back in October 2008, Pinter met a man in the Blue Door video store in the East Village, and agreed to a liaison in a car. The man was an undercover police officer. As they left the store, the undercover named a price of $50. Pinter said he remained silent. Pinter was then arrested by police for prostitution.
Pinter pleaded to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct and then filed a motion to vacate the conviction. Manhattan prosecutors did not oppose the motion, because they didn’t believe Pinter was in the video store to hire a prostitute.
In 2009, Pinter, local pols and the District Attorney’s Office had a meeting, which, he claims, led to police policy changes, which didn’t stick. Pinter then sued under federal civil rights law. The following year, Scheindlin ruled that the officers had no probable cause to arrest Pinter, but her ruling was reversed on appeal.
Scheindlin allowed the case to continue, however, because the police officers never said that Pinter consented to taking the money, and so there was no probable cause to believe he had been involved in prostitution.
Interestingly, a senior NYPD official told Internal Affairs that he did not believe the arrests were by the book.