Are residents of public housing in New York City entitled to be free from police harassment in their homes just like other New Yorkers? Can they be stopped or arrested without regard for their rights? Has NYC criminalized traveling home or visiting a friend while black or brown?
On January 29, 2010, a group comprised of residents of, and visitors to, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residences filed a class action lawsuit against NYCHA and the City of New York, Davis, et al. v. City of New York, et al. The case challenges the NYPD’s practices of unlawful stops and arrests of NYCHA residents and their visitors for criminal trespass without sufficient evidence and due to their race and/or ethnicity. Many of these unconstitutional stops and arrests are the product of “vertical sweeps,” an NYPD practice of stopping individuals in or around common areas of NYCHA residences without individualized suspicion. In essence, the NYPD only operates these unlawful pedestrian checkpoints in communities of color. In fact, the rate of stops and arrests for trespass in overwhelming non-white NYCHA residences is significantly higher than in surrounding areas with similar crime rates. NYCHA residences located in white or gentrifying neighborhoods display even starker rates of disparities in trespass stops and arrests.
NYCHA residents and their visitors deserve to feel safe and receive the same police protection provided to other New Yorkers. They should not have to forfeit their constitutional rights to live in public housing. Some of the Plaintiffs were detained or arrested by NYPD police officers in their own buildings or while trying to visit family members and friends. Other Plaintiffs are residents of NYCHA whose family members and friends are the ones being stopped and arrested while trying to visit. At the time of the stops or arrests, the individuals were not engaged in illegal activity, nor were they on NYCHA properties without authorization. Following the arrests, all of the charges were dismissed. The case alleges that the NYPD targets NYCHA residences and only implements these unlawful practices in communities of color. They charge the City of New York and NYCHA with the violation of their Constitutional rights under the 4th and 14th Amendments, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Fair Housing Act, the United Housing Act, and the laws of New York City and State.
The case against the Defendants aims to establish that officers of the NYPD are stopping individuals at NYCHA residences without individualized suspicion and arresting them without probable cause, that the NYPD practices discriminatory policies against minorities, and that the City of New York and NYCHA violate the housing rights of NYCHA residents. The Plaintiffs are acting on behalf of themselves and other similarly-situated class members.
UPDATE: On January 7, 2015, Plaintiffs and Defendants jointly submitted a preliminary settlement agreement to the court. Click here  for LDF and Legal Aid’s joint press release. The settlement is subject to final approval by Judge Shira Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, after class members have had an opportunity to voice their opinions about its terms. Upon final court approval, the Davis case will become part of the court monitoring process that was ordered in the lawsuit that successfully challenged the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies (Floyd v. City of New York). Both matters will be overseen by the court-appointed monitor, and former NYC Corporation Counsel, Peter Zimroth. Community stakeholders, including public housing residents, will have input in the structuring of these reforms through a process that will be presided over by retired State Appellate Division Justice Ariel Belen. The terms of the settlement explicitly state that “NYCHA residents and their authorized visitors have the same legal rights as the residents and authorized visitors of any other residential building in New York City, and deserve the utmost courtesy and respect.” The settlement revises the NYPD Patrol Guide on vertical (or interior) patrols in NYC public housing and the related NYPD training materials regarding vertical patrols and enforcement of NYCHA rules, imposes a documentation requirement for all trespass arrests in NYC public housing, and modifies certain NYCHA rules concerning residents’ cooperation with police and the prohibited activity of “lingering.”