Published Wednesday May 7, 2008
Group's lawsuit challenges NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy
By LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - A civil liberties group sued Wednesday in a challenge to the NYPD's practice of stopping hundreds of thousands of people each year for questioning, saying it is racially biased.

The New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit lists New York Post reporter Leonardo Blair as the sole plaintiff, saying he was stopped and frisked by police officers as he walked from his car to his Bronx home last November.

He was taken to a police station, where officers expressed surprise that though he was black, he was not from "the projects," the lawsuit said. Blair, 28, has a master's degree from Columbia University.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said the NYPD has stopped people in New York nearly a million times over the past two years under the practice. It said more than half of the people targeted were black, even though blacks make up only about a quarter of the city's population.

Under the practice, officers with reasonable suspicion that someone might have been involved in a crime can stop and frisk the person. The lawsuit asks that the practice be declared unconstitutional and that Blair be awarded unspecified compensatory damages.

"Leo Blair was handcuffed and hauled to a precinct house for simply walking down the street," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. "Walking while black is not a crime, and yet every year hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers are stopped, searched and interrogated by the police for doing just that."

According to the lawsuit, Blair was released shortly after he told the arresting officers that he was a Post reporter and had a master's degree. Blair was issued two summonses that were later dismissed - one for disobeying a lawful order and another for making an "unreasonable noise."

Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a city law department spokeswoman, said, "We are awaiting the legal papers and will review them thoroughly."

The police department has said the racial breakdown of people stopped by police is consistent with the descriptions provided by victims of violent crime. It said an independent study reached the same conclusion: that stops were related to crime conditions rather than race.

The lawsuit said the arrest is particularly troublesome for Blair because he is an immigrant and any arrest, even an unfounded one, must be reported on immigration and visa applications. Blair is from Jamaica.

According to the lawsuit, nearly 90 percent of the people stopped in 2006 and 2007 were engaged in lawful activity and were neither arrested nor issued a summons. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of those who were stopped got frisked, according to the NYCLU.