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Federal Judge Grants Class Certification in Case Challenging Discriminatory Use of Stops-and-Arrests for Trespass in New York City's Public Housing

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Today, United States District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin granted class certification in Davis v. City of New York, a case filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund—along with co-counsel, the Legal Aid Society—on behalf of plaintiffs challenging the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) policy and practice of illegally stopping and arresting public housing residents and their guests for the purported crime of trespass. The ruling will allow all African-American and Latino New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents, as well as their family members and authorized guests, who were unlawfully stopped and/or arrested since January 2007, to be class members in the lawsuit.  

The Court recognized that the City has a “centralized, hierarchical program of trespass enforcement in and around NYCHA buildings” and that the evidence “shows that the NYPD’s trespass enforcement policies and practices have resulted in thousands of trespass stops that apparently lacked reasonable suspicion, as well as large numbers of apparently unjustified trespass arrests.”

“The Court’s class certification ruling recognizes that unlawful trespass stops and arrests by NYPD officers are not isolated incidents in public housing, but are instead a serious and pervasive problem plaguing public housing residences all across the city,” said Johanna B. Steinberg, Senior Counsel in the Criminal Justice Practice of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the nation’s leading civil rights law firm and a separate entity from the NAACP. “The horrendous experiences of our named plaintiffs are examples of similar injustices suffered by tens of thousands of innocent African-American and Latino public housing residents and guests in New York City.”

“The Court’s decision paves the way for vindicating our clients’ rights and the rights of all public housing residents and their guests. The class certification ruling acknowledges a principle that the Court established in its Floyd opinion: that the kind of daily humiliation endured by African-American and Latino New Yorkers is both abhorrent and unconstitutional,” said Jin Hee Lee, Senior Counsel in LDF’s Criminal Justice Practice.

In the related case of Floyd v. City of New York, the Court recently held that the NYPD stops and frisks individuals without sufficient basis, and encourages the targeting of young Black and Latino men based on crime statistics, which is a form of unlawful racial profiling.  The NYPD’s use of similar tactics for trespass enforcement in public housing is particularly alarming. According to an analysis by Jeffrey A. Fagan, a Columbia Law professor who is an expert witness in both Floyd and Davis, trespass stops are the least likely of all stops to be justified.  In addition, there are large racial disparities in law enforcement activity in public housing, which are not explained by differences in crime rates or socioeconomic factors.