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Ligon v. City of New York (Challenging the NYPD’s aggressive patrolling of private apartment buildings)


S.D.N.Y., Index No. 12 CIV 2274 (direct) This class-action lawsuit challenges Operation Clean Halls, a part of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program that allows police officers to patrol thousands of private apartment buildings across New York City On March 28, 2012, the NYCLU, The Bronx Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and civil rights attorney Chris Fabricant filed in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of residents of buildings enrolled in Operation Clean Halls and individuals who were unlawfully stopped and arrested on trespassing charges through the program. The City of New York, Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and individual police officers who were involved in unlawful arrests are listed as defendants.

The lawsuit maintains that NYPD’s enforcement of Operation Clean Halls violates the rights of residents of those buildings and their guests – largely black and Latino New Yorkers – under the U.S. Constitution, the New York State Constitution, the federal Fair Housing Act and New York common law. All tenants of the thousands of buildings enrolled in the program and their guests are at a heightened risk of unjustified and unlawful NYPD stop-and-frisks or trespassing arrests. Many tenants who live in Clean Halls buildings are restricted in their ability to maintain familial ties and friendships due to the use of aggressive police tactics in their homes.

The program is part of a citywide practice of suspicionless police stops and arrests that primarily impact communities of color. Operation Clean Halls has existed in some form since 1991 with the purported purpose of combating illegal activity in apartment buildings, particularly in high-crime areas. In some Bronx neighborhoods, nearly every private apartment building is enrolled in the program. In Manhattan alone, there are at least 3,895 Clean Halls buildings. In a subset of Clean Halls buildings, police officers conduct regular floor-by-floor sweeps, called vertical patrols, and engage in particularly aggressive stop, question, frisk and arrest practices. The NYPD has no meaningful standards concerning which buildings are eligible for the program. There is no centralized oversight of how the program is enforced, nor is there a single roster of all the buildings enrolled in the program citywide. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the NYPD’s practices are unlawful and an injunction against them. It asks that the injunction require the NYPD and the city to:

  • Stop asking people inside and around Clean Halls buildings for their IDs or about their destination without suspicion that they are trespassing or engaged in other wrongdoing;
  • Stop arresting people for trespassing in a Clean Halls buildings without establishing whether or not the person is authorized to be there;
  • Establish citywide standards for enrollment of buildings in Operation Clean Halls;
  • Establish policies concerning the authority of NYPD officers to enter Clean Halls buildings;
  • Implement training for officers who patrol Clean Halls buildings;
  • Submit for review a protocol to significantly reduce the number of unjustified stops and arrests of people in Clean Halls buildings; and
  • Award compensatory damages to named plaintiffs.

The plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction sought to end the NYPD’s practice of baselessly stopping of people on suspicion of trespassing in public areas, such as sidewalks and courtyards, near Clean Halls buildings. On Aug. 21, 2012, U.S. District Judge Scheindlin issued an opinion and order denying the city’s request to summarily dismiss the plaintiffs’ motion. An evidentiary hearing on the motion commenced before Judge Scheindlin on Oct. 15, 2012. On Jan. 8, 2013, Judge Scheindlin granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction ordering the NYPD to immediately cease its practice of unlawful trespass stops outside Clean Halls buildings in the Bronx.

In a 157-page opinion, Judge Scheindlin found that for years the NYPD has known or should have known that its officers routinely violate constitutional rights through the Clean Halls program. Nonetheless the Police Department fails to adequately train officers about when they may legally make trespass stops, and that this practice “has risen to the level of deliberate indifference.” She outlined a number of training and supervision remedies that she would consider requiring the Police Department to undertake after an additional hearing March 2013 hearing. In August 2013, Judge Scheindlin issued a joint opinion on remedial relief in both Ligon and Floyd v. City of New York, a challenge to the NYPD’s street stop practices. In the order she appointed a monitor to oversee development and implementation of remedies designed to address the conduct found unconstitutional On July 30, 2014, Judge Analisa Torres denied the police unions’ request to join the case in order to make way for a settlement. On October 31, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied the unions’ appeal of Judge Torres’s decision. On the same day, the Court of Appeals also dismissed the city’s appeal of the 2013 decision filed by the Bloomberg Administration (which Mayor de Blasio had moved to withdraw in January 2014). 

NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Alexis Karteron is lead attorney on the case. Other attorneys on the case are NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn and NYCLU Liman Fellow Daniel Mullkoff; The Bronx Defenders’ J. McGregor Smyth Jr. and Mariana Kovel; LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Juan Cartagena, Foster Maer and Roberto Concepcion; and Chris Fabricant.

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