By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's controversial crime-fighting tactic known as "stop and frisk" will go to trial, a U.S. judge said.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to a lawsuit brought by black and Latino New Yorkers claiming they were improperly targeted by police.
The suit is the broadest yet to potentially reach a jury and challenge the police practice of stopping and questioning people considered suspicious. The NYPD says the tactic has been critical in achieving an historic drop in crime rates and denies that race or quotas motivate stops.
The judge's 86-page opinion addressed the specific cases of African-American men David Floyd and David Ourlicht who alleged illegal targeting by police. They, along with others, had sued the city in 2008 seeking class-action status, alleging a wide practice of discrimination based on race.
While the judge partially granted the city's motion for summary judgment in the Floyd case, she refused to toss Ourlicht's claims or any of the wider accusations of system-wide discrimination, saying a jury should decide.
"Thus, I find that plaintiffs have demonstrated that there is a disputed issue of fact as to whether the NYPD has engaged in a widespread practice of suspicionless stops and frisks," Scheindlin said.
City attorney Heidi Grossman said the judge had made the right decision in the Floyd case and was confident a jury would rule in the city's favor.
"While the Court has left it for the jury to determine whether the City has taken adequate action to ensure that stops of New Yorkers are handled appropriately, we are confident the jury will find in the City's favor," Grossman said. "Indeed, the Court noted that the City does not have an express policy of stopping minorities based on race."
The parties are due back in court on September 23.
Other issues the jury must consider were how to properly measure and weigh NYPD statistics on the stops, whether the city had taken enough steps to educate its police force and any question of mandatory stops quotas imposed from on high.
"In sum, I find that there is a triable issue of fact as to whether NYPD supervisors have a custom or practice of imposing quotas on officer activity, and whether such quotas can be said to be the 'moving force' behind widespread suspicionless stops," Scheindlin said.
According to numbers obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York police conducted 601,055 stops in 2010. That number was set to increase for 2011, the rights group said on Wednesday, with already 317,000 stops so far this year.
The case is Floyd et al v. The City of New York et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York 08-01034.
(Reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)