BY Prof. Adele Bernhard
On January 8, 2013, Judge Shira Scheindlin held that the New York City Police Department routinely makes unconstitutional arrests of innocent people in public areas outside private apartment buildings in the Bronx. The NYCLU and co-counsel brought the federal lawsuit, Ligon v. City of New York, to put an end to the Police Department’s routine practice of arresting individuals upon failure to provide identification or what the police determine to be an adequate explanation for their presence in or outside but near to a “Clean Halls” building.
Operation “Clean Halls” has existed in some form since 1991. The purported purpose of the operation was to combat illegal activity in privately owned apartment buildings, particularly in high-crime areas. In some Bronx neighborhoods nearly every private apartment building is enrolled in the program. The Clean Halls Program gave police authority to detain and question trespassers in the buildings, but police did not always follow the law. Relying in part on the testimony of the plaintiffs, taken at a hearing on the motion for summary judgment, in part on a report by Dr. Jeffrey Fagan, and in part upon numerous decisions by the Bronx District Attorney to decline to prosecute trespass charges arising from “Clean Halls” arrests, Judge Scheindlin held that the NYPD officers in the Bronx repeatedly stopped and questioned people on suspicion of trespass simply because they were observed exiting or entering and existing a Clean Halls building.
The decision makes for particularly interesting reading because Judge Schleindlin credits the plaintiffs’ testimony concerning their experiences being stopped, detained and arrested by police. She paints a devastating picture of how life feels in those areas of New York City where police power is most acutely experienced, and she criticized NYPD leadership for its failure to notice and combat the blatant abuse of power exercised by officers on the street.
To date, as noted above, the only piece of instruction that has been provided to officers on a systematic basis and that specifically targets the problem at issue in this case is a single bullet point in a single slide show during a single part of the [refresher training conducted in 2012]. This has been the NYPD’s most meaningful specific response to the problem that caused Charles Bradley’s unlawful stop and arrest, Abdullah Turner’s unlawful stop and arrest, the unlawful stop of J.G. that led Jaenean Ligon to fear for her son’ life, Roshea Johnson’s stop and interrogation in an unmarked NYPD van, all the other indignities that the other plaintiffs were obliged to suffer, and the hundreds of other unlawful stops, recorded and unrecorded, whose precise details this Court will never know, Ligon v. City of New York.
Pace Criminal Justice Clinic Students represented J. G. in criminal court, along with many other individuals wrongly charged with trespass. Pace students filed motions to dismiss; organized community “teach-ins” to inform young people about their rights in police-citizen encounters; and testified before the New York City Council regarding trespass arrests. They brought J.G and his mother to the NYCLU as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which the NYCLU brought with the Bronx Defenders, Shearman & Sterling LLP, and LatinoJustice PRLDEFF, and participated in litigation strategy meetings. The New York Law Journal reported on the case on January 9, 2013.
- Judge Finds NYPD Routinely Makes Unconstitutional Street Stops Outside Clean Halls Buildings Across the Bronx (NYCLU, Jan. 8, 2013)
- Opining & Order, Ligon v. City of New York, No. 12 Civ. 2274 (SAS) (Jan. 8, 2013).
- Opinion and Order, Ligon v. City of New York, No. 12 Civ. 2274 (SAS) (Aug. 21, 2012).
- Memorandum Opinion and Order, Ligon v. City of New York, No. 12 Civ. 2274 (SAS) (June 12, 2012).