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Covington’s Clients Victorious in NYPD Stop and Frisk Case

August 12, 2013

NEW YORK, August 12, 2013 — A federal judge ruled today that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policies and practices violate the constitutional rights of blacks and Hispanics by targeting them for stops on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

The plaintiffs in the case, Floyd v. City of New York, are represented by Covington & Burling the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Beldock, Levine & Hoffman.

In two rulings totaling 230 pages, issued after a nine-week bench trial, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that the City violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by acting “with deliberate indifference toward the NYPD’s practice of making unconstitutional stops and conducting unconstitutional frisks.” To remedy these constitutional violations, the Court appointed a monitor to oversee reforms of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies and practices, including in the areas of policy, training, supervision, monitoring, and discipline. The Court concluded its liability opinion with what it referred to as a “particularly apt quote,” taken from the New York Times stating: “The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies like stop-and-frisk, and . . . neighborhood watch — regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It's like burning down a house to rid it of mice.”

“Today’s decision confirms that the NYPD has engaged in a pattern and practice of violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of massive numbers of New Yorkers by stopping them on the basis of race or ethnicity and without reasonable individualized suspicion,” said Eric Hellerman, one of four lawyers on the Covington trial team. “The City will now be required to stop violating those rights.”

The case began in 2008 on behalf of a putative class of blacks and Hispanics who were or would be subjected to the unconstitutional pattern and practice. Prior to trial, the plaintiffs’ legal team won important victories when Judge Scheindlin denied the city’s motion for summary judgment and granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.

At trial, Covington and its co-counsel presented statistical, documentary, and testimonial evidence of massive numbers of suspicionless stops and the disparate impact of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies on blacks and Hispanics, resulting from pressure from NYPD high command.

“We showed that the NYPD has laid siege to black and Latino neighborhoods in the city — tossing the requirements of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments out the window, leaving people afraid to leave their homes,” said Gretchen Hoff Varner, another member of the trial team. “Today’s ruling will prevent further violations of the constitutional rights of these people.”

The New York-based Covington team has represented the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis since 2008. The team also included Philip Irwin, Bruce Corey and Kasey Martini.

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