Latino Plaintiffs Robbed by Suffolk Police Score Double Victory in Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 15, 2015
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A U.S. District court handed a double victory to 22 Latino drivers suing the Suffolk County Police Department after being robbed by its officers over the past 10 years.
The court decided to allow the victims to proceed anonymously with their challenge because of their “reasonable” fears of retaliation. Second, the Court agreed that the drivers could begin discovery on their claims that the SCPD racially profiled, harassed, and failed to provide police services to Latino drivers.
U.S. District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt announced his decision on Wednesday.
“The decision is well-reasoned and allows our clients to prepare for trial without fear of retaliation,” said Nancy Trasande, Senior Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, which represents the victims. “Our clients feared that being publicly identified in the lawsuit would subject them to harassment.”
A pro bono team of five lawyers from the firm Shearman & Sterling, led by partner Heather Kafele, also serve as counsel to the plaintiffs in this case.
Judge Spatt made two key findings. First, he found that the drivers’ fear of retaliation by other SCPD officers was reasonable:
“In light of this (former Sgt. Greene’s criminal) indictment(s) and the serious allegations against other SCPD Officers in this case [still employed by the SCPD], the Court finds that the Plaintiffs’ fears of possible retaliation and further harassment by SCPD Officers to be a reasonable assumption.”
The judge went on to find that the public interest was best served by allowing a challenge by a racial minority to governmental policies to proceed in a prompt timely fashion.
“The Plaintiffs as Latinos represent a minority interest challenging an alleged government policy, and therefore, the Court finds a public interest in the vindication of their rights.”
For two decades, LatinoJustice PRLDEF (LJP) has actively protected Latinos from these and other abuses by local police as well as federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents on Long Island. After the racially motivated murder of a Latino in Patchogue in 2008, LJP successfully petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate discriminatory policing by the SCPD, which led to a multi-year investigation and a three year Consent Decree mandating certain reform of SCPD policies and practices impacting Latinos, a decree still in effect.
In 2010 LJP led litigation successfully bringing to a halt ICE’s nationwide practice of conducting nighttime raids in which ICE agents would round up everyone in a home and take anyone into custody, even those without a warrant for them.
“For too long, police across Long Island have treated Latinos as if they have no rights, forcing their way into their homes, not investigating crimes against them, stopping them on the roads simply because they are Latino, and now robbing them while on duty,” said Foster Maer, an attorney at LJP who has worked on these earlier cases. “LJP and our allies intend to rid Suffolk County of racially targeted policing. Latinos and blacks both deserve a police force that serves them, not abuses them.”