A lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago alleges that the city’s police department is violating the law with its stop and frisk policy. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Martin Gould, will seek class action status for the lawsuit. He explains the litigation in this report.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six African-American men from the south and west sides of the city. The plaintiffs allege that actions of the city police have violated the U.S. Constitution. Gould explains that constitutional law on stop and frisk searches derives from the Supreme Court opinion in Terry v. Ohio. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects Americans from unreasonable searches. In order for a police officer to stop someone, the officer is required to have reasonable suspicion that the person stopped has committed or is about to commit a crime.
The ACLU issued a report in March, 2015 on Chicago’s stop and frisk policy, and the report shows that 250,000 stops in a four-month period did not lead to an arrest. Most of those stopped were African-Americans. Gould says those statistics show that racial profiling is involved in these stops, and that violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection provision.
As an example of how the policy has been carried out, Gould recites the experience of plaintiff Darnell Smith, who was standing outside his home, waiting for food delivery. As it happens, Smith had a security video camera running. A police car stopped, approached Smith, frisked him, threw down his wallet, found nothing, and left. The delivery man, says Gould, thought that Smith was being robbed. This search, says Gould, clearly violates Terry v. Ohio.
Gould notes that the standard for a stop and frisk is reasonable suspicion, not probable cause (a higher standard, required for an arrest). An example of reasonable suspicion might be a tip from a police informant that someone is dealing drugs on a street corner. Police could make a stop and frisk in that situation. Someone flashing gang signs or making an apparent threat towards another person could also be stopped and frisked.
As to relief sought in the lawsuit, Gould says that injunctive relief would be the first objective. “We want policy changes. We want to insure the rights of all Chicagoans are protected.” The lawsuit will ask that the police department keep better data so that the stops and frisks can be reviewed. Also, the plaintiffs want the police officers to have better training. The lawsuit will also seek compensatory damages.
Gould opines that the mindset of the police officers is to just check everybody. “The police are under a lot of pressure to make arrests.” The thought is perhaps that more stops will equal better policing. But simply stopping everyone to check for weapons possession is not allowed by the Constitution. Gould says that the issues in the case would be the same even if half the people stopped were white. Gould mentions a similar case, Floyd v. City of New York, which held against New York City, and Mayor de Blasio dropped the appeal.
Martin D. Gould is an Associate Attorney at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC in Chicago, Illinois. As a trial lawyer, Marty represents victims of catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice, auto accident, construction and other workplace accidents, nursing home negligence, aviation disasters, bullying and school cases, and police misconduct and civil rights actions. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.