More Racial Profiling Claims in NYC

     MANHATTAN (CN) – New York City police racially profile blacks and Latinos to “manufacture” marijuana offenses against them, five Bronx residents claim in Federal Court.
     Lead plaintiff Maurosol Felix sued New York City, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, two deputy inspectors, a captain, nine officers and 14 Officer Does.
     They claim the NYPD trumped up minor marijuana violations as misdemeanors, charging them with crimes the “men did not commit and which, shockingly, the charging police officers knew they did not commit.”
     The lawsuit comes after a widely publicized trial on the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy, which allegedly targets black people.
     The plaintiffs in this case, as in the stop and frisk case, claim that the NYPD holds officers to an illegal quota system for such arrests.
     Under New York law, a person who carries less than 25 grams of marijuana cannot serve jail time on a first offense and faces a maximum fine of $100 for a violation.
     But the plaintiffs claim that police “manufactured misdemeanors” against them by writing up the violations under a statute that punishes possession of marijuana that is “burning or open to public view,” which can lead to pre-arraignment and post-trial incarceration and inclusion in a criminal database.
     Felix, 42, claims he used the drug medicinally to relieve “a host of illnesses.”
     As he walked out of a convenience store, defendant Officer Cintron spotted something suspicious in his hand, which was just food, Felix says in the complaint.
     Cintron’s partner, defendant Officer Edwin Jerez, got out of the car and snuck up from behind him, Felix says.
     “Without provocation or justification, defendant Jerez used his body to forcefully and painfully pin Mr. Felix down on the NYPD vehicle,” the complaint states.
     During a “warrantless, illegal and unjustified search,” Cintron found a small amount of marijuana in the inside of his coat pocket, Felix says.
     Defendant Officers Guagliardi and Concepcion arrived and put him into a van, according to the complaint.
     Felix claims that Guagliardi turned to him during the ride to the 46th Precinct and said, “Don’t take this personally. I have a quota to make.”
     He claims that several Bronx police officers testified about pressure to meet stop-and-frisk arrest quotas in the Floyd v. City of New York class action.
     NYPD data submitted as evidence in that case showed that 87 percent of street stops targeted blacks and Latinos.
     The Felix plaintiffs claim statistics for marijuana possession “burning or open to public view” arrests are even more racially lopsided.
     “From 2003 through 2011, 87.0 percent of people arrested and charged under § 221.10 for possessing marijuana ‘burning or open to public view’ in New York City were either black or Latino,” the complaint states. “Conversely, only 10.2 percent were white. The disparity is even more acute in the Bronx, where the DCJS records show that 95.4 percent of all persons arrested and charged under §221.10 were either black or Latino. Meanwhile, studies show that between 2002 and 2009, among persons between the ages of 18 and 25, a greater percentage of whites used marijuana than either blacks or Latinos.”
     As in the Floyd case, all of the plaintiffs are black and Latino men who claim police racially profiled them because of pressure to meet quotas.
     “As a result of this quota system, and the perverse incentives it imposes, some NYPD officers have developed a policy, practice and custom of lying on criminal complaints – including plaintiffs’ – so as to ‘justify’ charging a misdemeanor rather than a violation,” the complaint states.
     Plaintiff Angel Sanchez claims his marijuana was so far away from public view that police had to strip him nearly naked to find it.
     Sanchez claims he was walking home with a friend when defendant Officer Brian Flynn and two unidentified colleagues approached them.
     The officers told his friend to “keep walking,” then Flynn slammed Sanchez against a gate, according to the complaint.
     Sanchez says that Flynn kept asking, “Where is it?”
     Finding nothing, they handcuffed him anyway, drove him down the road and started a strip search, according to the complaint.
     “Defendant Flynn kicked Mr. Sanchez’s legs apart, opened Mr. Sanchez’s pants, and pulled his underwear below his genitals.
     “Passersby on the street were able to see Mr. Sanchez’s genitals, causing him extreme embarrassment.
     “While Mr. Sanchez was standing in the street with his genitals exposed, defendant Flynn touched Mr. Sanchez’s testicles for an extended period of time.
     “In the midst of defendant Flynn’s invasive and illegal search, a bag containing a small amount of marijuana fell from the bottom of Mr. Sanchez’s pants onto the street,” the complaint states.
     Flynn wrote that he saw Sanchez stuff a Ziploc bag with marijuana “into his waistband with his left hand in public view,” the complaint states.
     Charges against all of the plaintiffs were dismissed after lengthy delays, according to the complaint. (The New York Times this week has run a lengthy series on multi-year delays of trials even for trivial offenses in Bronx courts.)
     The five plaintiffs demand punitive damages for constitutional violations and negligence.
     They are represented by Sam Shapiro and Katherine Rosenfeld with Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady.
     Their co-counsel, Scott Levy of the Bronx Defenders, wrote in a statement: “By lying and needlessly placing people in the criminal justice system, the NYPD is losing the trust of Bronx residents. They feel like the NYPD is out to get them, not to protect them. Ultimately, this makes the community feel less safe.”
     A New York City Law Department spokesperson played down the claims in an email.
     “We have not been served yet, but it’s important to keep in mind that these are merely allegations at this point – and nothing more,” the spokesperson said.

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