A federal court has banned the enforcement of agreements coerced by New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers from individuals and businesses. Police officers used allegations that someone at the individual’s residence or the business’ address committed a crime – even though the perpetrator wasn’t connected to the family or business – to pressure people and businesses to sign agreements waiving their constitutional rights. Those who refused to sign faced eviction from their homes or businesses.
The decision by U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Andrew Carter Jr. ordered that previous agreements obtained by NYPD officers in this manner before May 2017 cannot be enforced. Institute for Justice (IJ) attorney Sam Gedge remarked the court decision, which was a “long time coming,” delivered justice to countless New Yorkers stripped of their constitutional rights through the coerced agreements.
“For years, New York City used the threat of eviction to break up families, forcing leaseholders to kick out children, spouses and siblings – many of whom were never charged a crime. Other times, the city would force businesses to consent to warrantless searches and video monitoring,” Gedge said.
The NYPD’s no-fault eviction program, dating back from the 1990s, threatened to evict businesses and residents the moment somebody committed a crime at or near their property – even a total stranger. City prosecutors would pressure businesses and individuals once eviction proceedings were underway to sign agreements waiving their constitutional rights.
Stipulations in the agreements included parents agreeing to bar their children from their homes, businesses consenting to warrantless searches and others agreeing to waive judicial oversight of any future sanctions the NYPD might impose. The evictees would then sign under duress or be kicked out.
Two cases of the NYPD’s use of eviction agreements to make people waive their constitutional rights involved laundromat owner Sung Cho and Jameela El-Shabazz, a follower of the traditional African faith Ifa.
The city’s police threatened to evict Cho from his business after undercover police officers came to his shop and offered to sell stolen electronics to his customers. He then received an offer to stay if he agreed to three demands: waive his Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches, allow police unlimited access to his laundromat’s security camera system, and permit the police department to impose sanctions on him for alleged criminal offenses without a hearing. Cho reluctantly agreed on the city’s terms rather than be evicted.
El-Shabazz meanwhile risked eviction after police charged her with drug possession based on paper cups of crushed eggshells, which she used for Ifa religious ceremonies, in her apartment,. Laboratory tests found no drugs in the egg shells, and El-Shabazz won $37,500 in an ensuing false arrest complaint for her and her son Akim. However, she received an eviction notice based on the disproved charge and agreed to make her apartment permanently off-limits to Akim to avoid costly litigation.
Cho, El-Shabazz and other plaintiffs eventually challenged the program in court, with Carter ruling in their favor.
Cho said about the decision: “This week’s settlement is a victory not just for me, but for everyone like me. The city’s no-fault eviction program treated me like a criminal when I did nothing wrong. Many other New Yorkers faced the same treatment, and the settlement ensures that their rights will be respected going forward.”
The NYPD’s unlawful tactics to threaten individuals and businesses with eviction is just one of many documented cases of its abuses of authority.
Back in 2014, NYPD officers beat up 84-year-old Kang Chun Wong after crossing the street in the wrong spot. The elderly man said: “It was excessive how [the police] did it to me. If I did something wrong, I could understand, but I didn’t.”
Wong filed a $5 million suit against the city and the NYPD as a result of his injuries at the hands of police officers. Prosecutors later dropped all charges against the elderly man.
Visit PoliceViolence.news to find out more about constitutional rights violations by the NYPD and other police departments across the country.