PHILADELPHIA - The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg has filed a federal class action on behalf of eight African-American and Latino men who were stopped by Philadelphia police officers solely on the basis of their race or ethnicity. The suit alleges that thousands of people each year are illegally stopped, frisked, searched, and detained by the Philadelphia Police Department as part of its stop-and-frisk policy.
"These unconstitutional actions have had and continue to have a devastating effect on the lives of many Philadelphians," said Paul Messing, a partner with Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg. "Beyond that, these police practices have had no real impact on stemming criminal conduct in our city. They just subject innocent people to humiliating and degrading treatment."
The Philadelphia Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy began as a campaign promise in 2007 by then-mayoral candidate Michael Nutter. Multiple civil rights and community groups, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, have raised concerns with the Nutter administration about the policy.
"Mayor Nutter repeatedly promised that this policy would be carried out in a way that respected the Constitution," said Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "But instead of stopping people suspected of criminal activity, the police appear to be stopping people because of their race."
The suit alleges that the Philadelphia Police Department has a pattern of engaging in stops, searches, and detaining individuals in the absence of probable cause and profiles individuals based solely on race and/or national origin. It also claims that Commissioner Charles Ramsey has failed to adequately and properly train, supervise, and discipline police officers.
The lawsuit cites data obtained from the City of Philadelphia through a right to know request. Of the 253,333 stops in 2009, over 183,000, or 72.2%, were of African-Americans, who make up 44% of the population of Philadelphia. Only 8.4% of the 253,333 stops led to an arrest.
The plaintiffs include State Representative Jewell Williams and Mahari Bailey, a twenty-seven-year-old Philadelphia resident and attorney. According to the lawsuit, Bailey was illegally stopped and questioned on four separate occasions over a period of a year-and-a-half. The sole charge against him, driving with tinted windows, was thrown out in traffic court.
"It's hard when you try to do everything right and end up being treated like a criminal," said Bailey. "I just became a father and don't want my children to be brought up and have to deal with this kind of mistreatment. I hope this lawsuit sheds light on this important issue and gets the city to do something about it."
The Philadelphia Police Department has a history of racial profiling. In 1996, the City of Philadelphia agreed to implement policy and training initiatives as a result of a lawsuit, NAACP et. al, v. City of Philadelphia. On three separate occasions in the 1980s, federal courts intervened to stop police practices that violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
The case is Bailey, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, et al. The plaintiffs are represented by Messing and David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg; Roper of ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Seth Kreimer, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law.