NYC officer testifies on stop challenged in suit

AP News
Posted: Mar 22, 2013 3:29 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City officer on Friday rebutted claims that she wrongly stopped a man because of his race during testimony at a federal civil rights trial challenging some of the millions of street stops made by police in the past decade, including the encounter with the man outside of a Harlem apartment building.

Detective Angelica Salmeron said she stopped Deon Dennis because he was drinking alcohol out of a plastic cup and had an open bottle of Hennessy cognac on the street with him. Dennis, 42, said earlier in the week that he didn't have a cup in his hand and the officers wrongly said he was drinking before handcuffing him, then rifling through his pockets and pulling out his identification. Dennis, who is black, is one of four named plaintiffs in the case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights that seeks to show that officers, in part because of mounting pressure to fill illegal quotas, have been wrongly targeting people because of their race.

City attorneys deny that and say officers operate within the law. Police go where the crime is — and crime is overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods, they said.

Salmeron, who is Hispanic, was patrolling the 23rd Precinct in Manhattan during the 2008 encounter. When asked why she stopped Dennis, she said: "Because he was drinking in public."

Officers are required to fill out a form when someone is stopped, questioned or frisked, but Salmeron failed to do so. She said Friday it was because Dennis had an open warrant, so she put him in handcuffs and took him to a police precinct, as is required by law.

Salmeron also testified that she's received considerable training on the tactic of stop, question and frisk and understands that she must have reasonable suspicion that a person is engaging in illegal activity before she stops him or her. It contradicted earlier testimony from two police whistleblowers, who said their superiors weren't interested on the quality of the stop — only the quantity.

Department Deputy Chief Michael Marino also testified Friday, the first of several police brass expected to take the stand. Marino said officers were performing so poorly that he had no choice but to set the standard of 10 summonses and one arrest per month. He said under state law at the time, he was able to set a quota for certain types of summonses, and that some officers received poor evaluations and were transferred after they didn't get the numbers.

"I set a standard that said: 'Do your job or suffer the consequences,'" Marino said.

Performance goals are legal. But quotas — where an officer is punished for not meeting certain numbers — are not under a state law revised in 2010.

Officers in the Brooklyn precinct filed a complaint against Marino, and an arbitrator in 2010 found that he had had set wrongful quotas. But none of the transfers or low evaluations of officers was reversed. Marino, who was suspended for 30 days in an unrelated case for using steroids, is one of several officers ensnared in another federal lawsuit by police whistleblower Adrian Schoolcraft, who says he was hauled off to a psychiatric ward against his will after he alleged quotas and downgrading crime in Brooklyn. Schoolcraft's audio tapes of roll call where police brass are calling for specific numbers were played in court, but he did not testify.

The trial in Manhattan is seeking to reform the practice of stop, question and frisk, a contentious law enforcement tactic, and lawyers for the plaintiffs are seeking a court-appointment monitor to oversee the changes. Police have made about 5 million stops in the past decade, the majority involving black and Hispanic men. About half the people stopped are frisked, and earlier in the week, men testified about terrifying encounters of being handcuffed and searched by police.

The mayor and police commissioner say stop and frisk is a life-saving, crime-stopping tool that has helped drive crime down to record lows. Officers have more than 23 million contacts with the public, make 4 million radio runs and issue more than 500,000 summonses every year.

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who has already said in earlier rulings that she is deeply concerned about the tactic, has the power to order reforms on how it is used, which could bring major changes to the nation's largest police force and other departments.

Trial testimony is expected to last several weeks.