ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Abusive Police Practices In New York City Schools

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU national, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Jennifer Carnig, NYCLU, (212) 607-3363 or (845) 553-0349; jcarnig@nyclu.org

ACLU Lawsuit Challenges Abusive Police Practices In New York City Schools

NYPD Officers Routinely Subject Schoolchildren To Excessive Force And Wrongful Arrests

NEW YORK -  New
York Police Department personnel assigned to New York City's public
schools have repeatedly violated students' civil rights through
wrongful arrests and the excessive use of force, according to a class
action federal lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties
Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the law firm
Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

The landmark lawsuit challenges the
conduct and behavior of police officers and school safety officers
(SSOs) serving in the NYPD's School Safety Division. It was filed on
behalf of five middle school and high school students who were
physically abused and wrongfully arrested at school by NYPD personnel.
The plaintiffs seek system-wide reform in New York City's middle
schools and high schools.

"Aggressive policing is stripping
thousands of New York City students of their dignity and disrupting
their ability to learn," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of
the NYCLU. "We all want safe schools for our children, but the current
misguided system promotes neither safety nor learning. Despite mounting
evidence of systemic misconduct by police personnel in the schools, the
NYPD refuses to even acknowledge any problems with its school policing
practices. We are confident that the courts will compel much-needed
reform."

Plaintiff Daija, 13, is an
eighth-grade student at Lou Gehrig Middle School in the Bronx. On
October 7, 2009, Daija was unlawfully arrested by SSOs following a
confrontation in front of her school initiated by two adult strangers
who had threatened her. An SSO instructed Daija to go into the school
with the strangers. Frightened, Daija told the SSO that she preferred
to wait outside for her mother who was coming to pick her up.

In response, the SSO grabbed Daija
by the arm, handcuffed her, forcefully threw her down and pinned her to
the ground. Daija sat handcuffed at a desk until her mother managed to
find her. No charges were filed against her. Daija required medical
attention as a result of the assault. 

"I feel unsafe at school," said
Daija. "I'm afraid that School Safety Officers could attack me again
for no reason. I just want the school year to be over so I can be a
normal kid again. I shouldn't have to be scared of school."

The lawsuit maintains that
inadequately trained and poorly supervised police personnel engage in
aggressive behavior toward students when no criminal activity is taking
place and when there is no threat to health and safety. The police
confront and arrest students over minor disciplinary infractions such
as talking back, being late for class or having a cell phone in school.
The lawsuit documents numerous incidents in which students engaged in
non-criminal conduct were handcuffed, arrested and physically assaulted
by police personnel at school. 

The aggressive policing in the
city's schools contributes to the school-to-prison-pipeline, a
disturbing national trend wherein students are funneled out of the
public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
These children tend to be disproportionately Black and Latino, and
often have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or
neglect.

"If you treat children like
criminals, they will fulfill those expectations," said Catherine Y.
Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. "Aggressive
policing in public schools undermines efforts to create a nurturing and
supportive environment for children, and without strict accountability
and transparency, too many at-risk youth fall through the cracks and
are denied equal educational opportunities."

Since the NYPD took control of
public school safety in New York City in 1998, more than 5,000 SSOs,
civilian NYPD employees assigned to the schools, and nearly 200 armed
police officers have been assigned to the city's public schools. There
are more police officers patrolling New York City schools than make up
the entire police forces in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Boston,
Baltimore, Dallas, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego or Las Vegas. The
number of police personnel assigned to patrol New York City public
schools has grown by 73 percent since the transfer of school safety to
the NYPD, even though school crime was declining prior to the 1998
transfer and even though student enrollment is at its lowest point in
more than a decade.

SSOs wear NYPD uniforms and possess
the authority to stop, frisk, question, search and arrest students.
While NYPD police officers must complete a six-month training course
before being deployed, SSOs receive only 14 weeks of training before
being assigned to schools. School administrators have no supervisory
authority over the SSOs who patrol their schools.

"When one of our clients was 11
years old, she was handcuffed and perp-walked into a police precinct
for doing nothing more than doodling on a desk in erasable ink.
Amazingly, no one in the police department or the school seemed to
think there was anything wrong with that," said Joshua Colangelo-Bryan,
senior attorney at Dorsey & Whitney and co-counsel on the case.
"It's a sad day when you need to resort to a lawsuit to keep an
11-year-old from being arrested for drawing on her desk, but in this
case it is clear there is no alternative."

From 2002 to June 2007, the NYPD
Internal Affairs Bureau received 2,670 complaints against members of
NYPD's School Safety Division – about 500 complaints annually – even
though no effective or publicized mechanism exists for lodging
complaints against school safety officers. Families that have lodged
complaints against SSOs have reported that, in response, the NYPD
simply transfers those SSOs to different public schools. Additionally,
the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates allegations of
police misconduct, has reported that the NYPD receives about 1,200
complaints a year about SSOs.

Today's lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, seeks the following remedies:

A return of disciplinary decisions traditionally dealt with by school administrators to New York City's school administrators.

Mandatory training of SSOs regarding
conduct relating to arrests, searches and the use of force. Officers
must get training for working in an educational environment and must be
taught the difference between the penal code and the disciplinary code
when it comes to arresting students.

A transparent and meaningful
mechanism for students and parents to file complaints against members
of the NYPD's School Safety Division.

Revision of the policies and
procedures regarding discipline of members of the NYPD's School Safety
Division who are found to have committed abuses, including their
removal from having future contact with youth where appropriate.

A copy of today's complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/bh-v-city-new-york-complaint

Additional information about the case is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/bh-v-city-new-york

Additional information about the ACLU's work to combat the school-to-prison-pipeline is available at: www.aclu.org/stpp

Additional information about the New York Civil Liberties Union is available online at: www.nyclu.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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