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Judge: Stop and frisk victims can join lawsuit

May 17, 2012 8:59:50 AM PDT
A judge's ruling on the NYPD's controversial stop and frisk policy could be a huge blow to the force.

The judge said there's overwhelming evidence that the stops by police are unlawful, and she says victims can now be part of one massive class action lawsuit against the city.

The ruling turns up the pressure on the city to re-think the crime-fighting tactic targeted at minorities.

"It allows for hundreds and thousands of New Yorkers, whose rights have been violated because of illegal stops at the hands of the police department, to have their day in court," said Darius Charney, of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

In her decision, Federal court judge Shira Scheindlin slams the city and NYPD for its "cavalier attitude" towards the prospect of ''widespread practice of suspicionless stops," adding that it ''displays a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers most fundamental constitutional rights."

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Hoffer spoke to one of the lawsuit's lead plaintiffs. Lalit Clarkson claims he was stopped by police more than 15 times, and in each case, he says he was doing nothing wrong.

"People have not felt there was accountability when police ran up on them illegally, stopped and searched them and then moved," he said. "So I think today is the first day of a process of creating accountability for these police policies."

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, stop and frisk has exploded from just under 100,000 people in 1992 to nearly 700,000 stops of mostly innocent minorities last year. It is a practice the mayor again defended Wednesday.

"We continue to do everything we can that is legal to keep this city safe," he said. "And you can walk in any neighborhood in this city and not have to worry about getting shot."

Several NYPD officers have come forward to tell Eyewitness news they are relentlessly pressured to make stops without having any reasonable suspicion.

When done hundreds of thousands of times, critics say it undermines safety.

"The people who can help the police fight crime are the members of the communities themselves," Charney said. "And if you create a climate of distrust and fear, you're going to make your job as a police officer harder to do."

When Kelly was asked to respond to the judge's decision, he said, "No comment, it is what it is."

There is no word on whether the city will appeal the ruling.

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