Court Blocks Stop-and-Frisk Changes for New York Police

Joseph Goldstein, New York Times, November 1, 2013

A federal appeals court on Thursday halted a sweeping set of changes to the New York Police Department’s practice of stopping and frisking people on the street, and, in strikingly personal terms, criticized the trial judge’s conduct and removed her from the case.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, “ran afoul” of the judiciary’s code of conduct by compromising the “appearance of impartiality surrounding this litigation.” The panel criticized how she had steered the lawsuit to her courtroom when it was filed nearly six years ago.

The ruling effectively puts off a battery of changes that Judge Scheindlin, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, had ordered for the Police Department. It postpones the operations of the monitor who was asked to oversee reforms of the stop-and-frisk practices, which Judge Scheindlin had said violated the constitutional rights of minorities.

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But Judge Scheindlin ruled in August that the Police Department not only had violated the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, but had also violated the 14th Amendment by resorting to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as the number of police stops soared in minority communities over the last decade.

The police, Judge Scheindlin found, were routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”

Lawyers for the city had gone to the Second Circuit to ask for a stay of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling and of the court-ordered mandates. In granting the stay, the circuit went beyond what the city had requested and unexpectedly ordered that the stop-and-frisk lawsuit, known as the Floyd case, be randomly reassigned.

The new judge, John Koeltl, was instructed to put off “all proceedings and otherwise await further action” from the panel. The appeals court has not yet taken up whether Judge Scheindlin’s decision reached the correct constitutional conclusion regarding the police tactics.

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The panel set a schedule for the appeals process that extends into 2014, after Mr. Bloomberg leaves office. The judicial stay leaves open the question as to how the next mayor will approach the appeal, and whether he will accept or challenge the court-ordered mandates.

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Lawyers involved in the lawsuit said they would appeal the panel’s decision, which put off a number of changes Judge Scheindlin had ordered. Those included installing an outside lawyer to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution and directing some officers to wear cameras in a pilot program to record their street interactions, and holding community meetings to solicit public comments on reforming the department’s tactics.

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