Post Reporter Files Lawsuit Over Frisking by Police

May 8, 2008

Post Reporter Files Lawsuit Over Frisking by Police

By CHRISTINE HAUSER

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/nyregion/08frisk.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

A freelance reporter for The New York Post sued the city on Wednesday, claiming that his civil rights were violated when he was stopped, frisked and arrested in the Bronx last year.

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of the man, Leonardo Blair, in Federal District Court on Wednesday. In addition to seeking damages for Mr. Blair, who is black, it challenges the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy as aggressive policing that unfairly affects minorities.

“We think that he is a good messenger for the criticisms of Police Department policies that treat black men as entities, not people,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the civil liberties group. “He is the face of racial profiling.”

The lawsuit names as defendants the City of New York; the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly; and the officers who stopped and arrested Mr. Blair: Officers William Castillo and Eric Reynolds.

Kate O’Brien Ahlers, the spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said, “We have just received the legal papers, and we are reviewing the matter thoroughly.”

While he said he was unaware of the lawsuit, Mr. Kelly said: “We think that the stop and question provision in the criminal procedure law is a valuable tool for this department. We think it’s a tool that is necessary. We try to do it with civility, with respect.”

The lawsuit states that Mr. Blair, 28, a citizen of Jamaica, has been working for The Post on a one-year training visa, and that the arrest will make it more complicated for him to change his immigration status.

Mr. Blair was holding a gym bag and walking from his car to his home in the Bronx shortly after 8 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2007, according to the suit. As he turned onto Tenbroeck Avenue, an officer in a police car asked him what he was doing. Officer Castillo jumped out of the car and asked him if he spoke English, and Mr. Blair replied, in Spanish, that he did not, the suit contends.

Mr. Blair was ordered to put his hands in the air and was frisked, and his bag was then searched, the suit says. When he put his hands down, the suit contends, Officer Castillo said that he had not been told to do so and Mr. Blair was handcuffed. He claims that Officer Castillo told him he had disobeyed a lawful order.

Mr. Blair was arrested and taken to a holding cell, where, the suit contends, he overheard officers examining his identification and Officer Castillo remarking incredulously, “Look at this — he’s not even from the projects.” Mr. Blair told them he was a reporter and a Columbia University graduate, the suit says.

Within a few minutes, Mr. Blair was issued two summonses — one for disobeying a lawful order and the other for “unreasonable noise” — and was freed, the suit says. Both charges were dismissed in Bronx Criminal Court in February.

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul. J. Browne, said that the police had received numerous complaints in that area about car break-ins. The officers acted appropriately, he said.

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