Class action suit demands Chicago Police Department halt 'unconstitutional,' racially biased stop-and-frisk practices

By Jonathan Bilyk | Apr 21, 2015

Six African-American Chicago men, with the aid of a prominent Chicago personal injury and civil rights firm, have brought a federal civil rights class action suit against the city of Chicago on behalf of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people – and particularly other African-American men – who they allege have been unconstitutionally stopped, questioned and searched for years under the Chicago Police Department’s controversial so-called stop-and-frisk policy.

On April 20, attorneys Antonio Romanucci and Martin Gould, of the Chicago firm of Romanucci & Blandin, together with attorney Rodney Gregory, of The Gregory Law Firm, of Jacksonville, Fla., filed the class action suit in federal court in Chicago, asking the court to declare the CPD’s practice unconstitutional and order the department to discontinue the policy as part of its regular policing practices, while training officers to avoid the practice and disciplining those who abuse the practice.

The suit also asks a judge to award damages on behalf of six named plaintiffs who allege they were victims of police officers employing the practice to stop, question and search them without reasonable suspicion the men were engaged in criminal activity at the time of the stop.

“Despite receiving numerous requests by various organizations to conduct stop-and-frisk within the bounds of the Constitution, the city of Chicago and its final policymakers have repeatedly and consciously failed to take appropriate action,” the complaint states.

The suit comes on the heels of a report issued in March by the American Civil Liberties Union, which found Chicago Police have increasingly used stop-and-frisk as a practice in policing neighborhoods throughout the city. The report further indicated much of the use of the practice may run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s protections against abuse by law enforcement.

And the ACLU reported, while the practice was widespread in many of the city’s neighborhoods, it was disproportionately employed against African-American males.

The complaint extensively cites the ACLU report in alleging the CPD’s abuse of the practice, zeroing in particularly on the four-month period of May-August 2014 to reveal:

  • African-Americans were subjected to 182,000 stops and frisks, accounting for 72 percent of all such stops, while accounting for about 32 percent of Chicago’s population;

  • Stop-and-frisk activity was most pronounced in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. In Englewood, for instance, there were 266 stops per 1,000 residents, compared to 43 stops per 1,000 residents in the predominantly white Lincoln/Foster district; and

  • Even in predominantly white neighborhoods, African-Americans still accounted for a disproportionate share of stop-and-frisk activity.

Citywide, the complaint says the report found CPD logged 250,000 stops under the stop-and-frisk policy in that four-month period, or about 94 stops per 1,000 residents. By comparison, in New York City in 2011, at the “height” of that city’s renowned use of the policy, police there logged just 23 stops per 1,000 people.

In recent years, federal courts have found New York’s stop-and-frisk policies unconstitutional.

The Chicago complaint centers on the particular experiences of six African-American Chicago men – Darnell Smith, 37, of the Englewood neighborhood; Darren Nathan, 49, of Englewood; Gregory Davis, 58, of the Woodlawn neighborhood; Jeff Coleman, 47, of the West Pullman neighborhood; Philip Overton, 36, who lives on Chicago’s West Side; and Marque Ross, 18, of the East Garfield Park neighborhood – each of whom allege they were stopped and frisked by police looking for illegal drugs or firearms at least once between May 2013 and April 2015 without probable cause. None of the men were arrested or charged with a crime as a result of the stop-and-frisk actions.

Further, the complaint alleges in none of the instances did the officers who stopped and frisked the six men record the stop on so-called “contact cards,” as required by the city’s policy in place since 2014 for stops not resulting in arrests.

The complaint asserts such improper record keeping is widespread in the CPD, meaning the actual number of stops-and-frisks could be much higher than has been publicly reported, particularly since, as the complaint asserts, the practice has been promoted, encouraged and incentivized by those in the highest ranks of the CPD and Chicago City Hall.

The complaint alleges 11 counts against the city, the CPD and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, including violation of the named plaintiffs’ and potential plaintiff class members’ Fourth and 14th Amendment rights; violation of the federal Civil Rights Act; unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest; and violation of plaintiffs’ rights under Illinois law.

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