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Settlement Will End Unconstitutional NYPD Stops, Frisks and Arrests in Clean Halls Buildings

Civil rights groups announced a settlement today with the NYPD that will reform the program under which police officers patrol inside thousands of private apartment buildings across New York City. Under the settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, The Bronx Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling in the federal class-action case Ligon v. City of New York, the NYPD must comply with clear standards limiting stops, frisks and arrests of people in buildings enrolled in the program. The NYPD must also train and supervise officers involved in this enforcement activity, tighten standards for building participation in the program, submit to years of monitoring, and pay nearly a quarter million dollars to the lead plaintiffs in the case. The federal court in Manhattan must still approve the settlement.

“Today’s settlement is another major step toward dismantling the NYPD’s abusive stop-and-frisk regime,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, who is lead counsel. “Under Operation Clean Halls, tens of thousands of building residents, most of whom are Black and Latino, were under siege in their own homes, and visitors also were routinely stopped, frisked and arrested. This settlement will put an end to those abuses.”

The plaintiffs filed their suit in March 2012 on behalf of a class of all residents of and visitors to buildings enrolled in the NYPD’s trespass enforcement program, called “Operation Clean Halls” in the Bronx and the “Trespass Affidavit Program” in other boroughs. The plaintiffs sought expedited relief and, following an October 2012 trial, won a preliminary injunction in January 2013. Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD was illegally stopping innocent people in public areas outside of Clean Halls buildings in the Bronx and ordered the NYPD to cease its practice immediately. Later that year, Judge Scheindlin ruled that the larger NYPD program of stopping and frisking people on City streets was unconstitutional in another class-action lawsuit, Floyd v. City of New York, and ordered a joint remedial process covering both Floyd and Ligon. A third case involving unlawful stop-and-frisk in public-housing buildings, Davis v. City of New York, was later consolidated with Ligon and Floyd.

Today’s settlement goes far beyond the issue of outdoor stops in the Bronx. It addresses the NYPD’s practice of stopping, frisking and arresting people both inside and outside of Clean Halls and Trespass Affidavit buildings across the five boroughs. The settlement requires that police enforcement activity in these buildings complies with constitutional standards; expressly prohibits police officers from taking enforcement action against people merely because they are present in or near enrolled buildings; requires officers to complete reports every time they stop, frisk or arrest a person in or near an enrolled building; requires the promulgation and maintenance of NYPD policies containing the standards set out in the settlement; mandates substantial training and supervision of police officers patrolling enrolled buildings; tightens the standards by which buildings can be enrolled in Clean Halls; provides $230,000 to the lead plaintiffs for the harm inflicted by NYPD officers enforcing the program; and provides that the federal monitor overseeing LigonFloyd, and Davis monitor the settlement for at least three years, after which the plaintiffs will continue monitoring for at least two more years.

“The NYPD used Clean Halls as a license to stop anybody, at any time, on suspicion of trespassing,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Molly Kovel. “This settlement provides the best path towards a lasting, constitutional policing policy that rebuilds trust between police and New Yorkers who live in these buildings while also providing compensation for the abuse that our clients suffered.”

“For New Yorkers in the South Bronx, where nearly every apartment building is subject to the Clean Halls stop-and-frisk program, this settlement marks a significant victory on the road to meaningful police reform,” said Johanna Steinberg, director of the Impact Ligitation Practice at the Bronx Defenders. “For too long, people in this community have lived under constant fear of being harassed by police and stopped without cause in their own homes. We look forward to working with the court and the City to implement this settlement and put an end to those abuses.”

“This settlement provides a clear directive to New York City police officers that the protections of the U.S. Constitution apply equally to those officers policing private residential apartment buildings just as if they were working on the City’s streets,” said Foster Maer, senior litigation counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Tenants and their guests should no longer be subjected to ungrounded stops, interrogations and harassment. This is a major victory for the City’s Latinos and Blacks who have been the primary target of these unlawful practices.”

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, with more than 3,000 buildings enrolled in the program borough-wide.

Counsel on the case include Christopher Dunn, Molly Kovel, and Jordan Wells of the NYCLU; Johanna Steinberg and Jenn Borchetta of the Bronx Defenders; Foster Maer and Juan Cartagena of LatinoJustice PRLDEF; Jeffrey Reseterits of Shearman & Sterling; and McGregor Smyth of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

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