21 Latinos Charge Suffolk Police with Condoning Officers’ 10-Year Crime Spree Against Latinos in Federal Class Action Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 29, 2015 CONTACT: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org.

Twenty-one Latinos in Long Island filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that multiple officers in the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) systematically targeted them and other Latinos for unfounded, race-based stops after which they were either robbed or given unjustified traffic citations. They also charge the SCPD needlessly permitted this practice to continue within its ranks for 10 years, a crime spree that left local Latinos too afraid to drive their cars, leave their homes or interact with the police.

This lawsuit comes a year after SCPD Sgt. Scott Greene was arrested after being caught on camera taking money from a Latino driver he had pulled over during an undercover officer sting operation. Make the Road New York and LatinoJustice PRLDEF soon learned from dozens of victims who had been too afraid, or thought it pointless, to complain about widespread police criminality. The victims claimed that one or more officers would, in clear violation of police rules, get a hold of the victim’s wallet and then return it a few minutes later with one or two hundred dollars missing.

Attorneys from LatinoJustice PRLDEF and law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP, working on a pro bono basis, are representing the plaintiffs. “People of color should be able to walk and drive the streets of Suffolk County without fear of being harassed and robbed by SCPD officers,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The Constitution and civil rights laws of this country demand nothing less from any law enforcement agency, and it is based upon those laws that we have commenced this action.”

According to the plaintiffs, any Latino in plain view was fair game. Most plaintiffs were stopped and robbed while driving, others while sitting in a parked vehicle and still others while walking down the street. A few had their home invaded by police officers.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF requested that the District Attorney expand the investigation beyond Sgt. Greene. The DA has not replied to the request and in fact has only indicted Sgt. Greene in the robberies.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF has requested numerous times that the Department of Justice investigate SCPD for crimes against Latinos, but to date those requests have been largely ignored.

“That these criminal practices, conducted every week in public, went on for a decade yet were never halted by the Department reflects a fundamental failure of the Department’s ability to monitor itself, ,” said Foster Maer, Senior Litigation Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The system of justice is broken for Latinos in Suffolk County and must be reformed.”

LatinoJustice Senior Counsel Nancy Trasande said, "Latinos and communities of color in Suffolk County should not have to wait for one of their own to be the victim of ugly racially motivated police violence or brutality before such action is taken, given the unprecedented scope of evidence of discriminatory policing already in hand."

Frank Sprouse, a Bay Shore resident and member of Make the Road New York, affirmed, “Latinos and immigrants like me are tired of living in fear of local law enforcement on Long Island, and we stand with the plaintiffs in this case who have suffered from police criminality. The horrible scheme of Sergeant Greene and other officers is a clear reminder that our County must do more to ensure that all of its residents are treated with the respect they deserve and that we can actually trust law enforcement to protect us.”

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Suffolk County’s immigrants, like all its community members, should be able to trust that law enforcement is there to protect them from harm. Unfortunately, immigrant communities have been the victims of hate crimes at the hands of the police and we cannot stand for this. The NYIC stands with LatinoJustice PRLDEF and all our allies in taking all the steps necessary to seek justice for those who have been the victims of hate crimes, and to ensure that this dangerous pattern does not continue.”

Martha Maffei, Executive Director of SEPA Mujer Inc. in Long Island, said, “We demand that the SCPD stop the harassment of people of color and to once again return to be dependable, accessible and protectors of the community. This is of upmost importance for all the residents of Suffolk County without distinction of race or skin color. Likewise, victims of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault need to feel safe so that they can come out of the shadows and report these heinous crimes. We demand that the police protect and serve.

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