Legal Aid Society


LAS Secures Overhaul of NYPD's Illegal Warrant Search Practices

The Legal Aid Society, Handley Farah & Anderson and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan secured a settlement in Terron Belle v. the City of New York, a class action lawsuit brought in 2019 challenging the New York City Police Department’s unconstitutional practice of prolonging stops to demand a person’s identification to run unrelated warrant checks and investigation card (“i-card”) searches without individualized reasonable suspicion to justify prolonging the detention, as reported by The New York Times.

Take for example the illegal stop of Terron Belle, the lead plaintiff in this case. Mr. Belle was walking home from the subway one night when four plainclothes police officers surrounded him on the sidewalk, ordered him to turn around, and searched him. The officers told Mr. Belle that they were searching for guns, but when they found nothing, they demanded his ID. The officers proceeded to detain him to run a warrant check even after the reason for their stop — a belief that Mr. Belle was carrying an illegal gun — was confirmed to be incorrect.

The settlement prohibits officers from prolonging stops for purposes of conducting warrant and i-card searches. It also mandates clear communication of the new policy and the penalties associated with violating it. Additionally, the NYPD has agreed to pay over $450K in damages to plaintiffs and attorneys’ fees.

“I brought this lawsuit to challenge the NYPD’s violation of my rights and the rights of other Black and Latinx people all over the city,” said Mr. Belle. “I am hopeful that the settlement reached will keep what happened to me from happening to other people. I was treated like a criminal and held against my will so that they could run a warrant check on me when I had done nothing wrong.”

“For years, the NYPD maintained an unconstitutional practice of prolonging stops to run warrant and i-card searches, turning each of these stops into an unrelated fishing expedition and subjecting our clients to harassment by police,” said Molly Griffard, an attorney with the Cop Accountability Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This settlement marks a change in the NYPD’s official policy and holds the NYPD accountable for infringing on the rights of New Yorkers.”