Back to All Press Release

NYPD agrees to halt practice of detaining innocent bystanders in city parks as part of settlement of lawsuit brought by NYCLU.

For at least ten years the New York City Police Department has detained innocent bystanders in Washington Square Park during police operations in the park by sealing the entire park. Pursuant to that practice, on June 19, 1997, Lloyd McNeill, a long-time Village resident, was arrested and handcuffed when he attempted to leave Washington Square Park to return home for an appointment.

On June 30, 1997, the New York Civil Liberties filed suit in federal court on behalf of Mr. McNeill. The suit alleged that the NYPD’s practice of sealing innocent bystanders in the park violated the United States Constitution and sought a court order barring the practice as well as monetary damages for Mr. McNeill.

The City has now settled the suit by agreeing to halt the practice and to pay damages to Mr. McNeill. The NYPD recently issued Chief of Department Memo 2, which prohibits, except in emergency situations (such as a fire or building collapse), the sealing of any park in the city. Specifically, the memo requires that the NYPD ensure that at least one (1) point of egress is maintained for those who wish to leave the park. Moreover, in those instances in which the NYPD does close some park exits during a police operation, officers are required to direct those wishing to leave the park to an open exit.

Mr. McNeill stated, AIt was wrong for the police to arrest me, and it was wrong for them to detain innocent people in Washington Square Park. This settlement vindicates me personally, and it assures that I and other New Yorkers will be able to move freely through our city=s parks without the risk of detention or arrest simply because of nearby police activity directed at others.

AWe believe this is an important win for Mr. McNeill and the civil liberties of all New Yorkers,@ said Norman Siegel, Executive Director of the NYCLU. AThis settlement comes in a period where government — including New York City — is aggressively and successfully combating crime. But also a period where people’s civil liberties are being eroded. The sealing of the city=s parks, in our opinion, violated one of the fundamental guarantees of our society: the right to be free from unreasonable seizures by the police.

Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU staff attorney who negotiated the settlement, said, AEvery law-abiding New Yorker has the right to move freely through city parks, and this new policy assures that the Police Department will respect that right.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union