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NYPD Sued Over Stop and Frisk Marijuana Arrests


MiddlefingerBy Phillip Smith

The Legal Aid Society in New York City announced Friday that it had filed a lawsuit against the NYPD over its continuing practice of making misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests when they order suspects to empty their pockets during the department’s controversial stop and frisk searches. Police Commissioner Raymond issued a memorandum last fall directing police not to make the arrests, but only to ticket pot possession offenders, but police continue to charge people with misdemeanors, according to the lawsuit.

“It’s certainly a sad commentary that the commissioner can issue a directive that reads well on paper but on the street corners of the city doesn’t exist,” said Legal Aid’s chief lawyer, Steven Banks.

Under New York state law, marijuana possession is decriminalized, but public possession remains a misdemeanor. In New York City, police order suspects to empty their pockets, then charge them with public possession if a baggie appears.

A call to modify the state’s decriminalization law to include public possession as only a ticketable offense won broad support, including from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R), but was killed last week by Senate Republicans.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeks a court order against the city and the NYPD declaring the practice illegal under state law and barring officers from making such arrests.

The Legal Aid Society filed the suit on behalf of five New Yorkers, all of whom were arrested since mid-April on misdemeanor possession charges after small amounts of pot were found on them during police stops. In each case, the marijuana became visible only after officers searched the men or asked them to empty their pockets.

“These five individuals are New Yorkers who were essentially victimized by unlawful police practices,” Banks said. “The lawsuit is aimed at stopping a pernicious police practice, which is harming thousands of New Yorkers a year and clogging up the court system with one out of seven criminal cases and diverting resources and attention from more serious criminal matters.”

One plaintiff, Juan Gomez-Garcia, said he was waiting for a food order outside a Kennedy Fried Chicken restaurant in the Bronx on May 16 when an officer approached, began to question him and asked if he had any drugs on him. Mr. Gomez-Garcia, 27, said that after he admitted to the officer that he had marijuana in his pocket, the officer reached inside the pocket and removed a plastic bag containing a small amount of the drug.

He was arrested and charged with “open to public view” possession for having marijuana “in his right hand.” He spent about 12 hours in a jail cell and was let go after he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation, according to the lawsuit.

Because of the NYPD’s massive stop-and-frisk program–aimed overwhelmingly at young people of color–and because of the department’s willful misinterpretation of the law and refusal to follow Commissioner Kelly’s directive, New York City is the nation’s marijuana arrest capital. Around 50,000 people a year are charged with misdemeanor pot possession.

According to the Legal Aid Society, NYPD continues to arrest people for pot possession at about the same pace as ever. While arrests dipped below 3,000 in December, by March, the number of arrests had risen to 4,186, a number almost identical to the 4,189 arrests made last August, before Kelly issued his directive.

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  1. Steve in Oakland on

    The reason injustices like this can continue against cannabis users is because of the climate of lies and fear that has been hurled at marijuana since early last century. Going back in time, Dear Abby is doing her part to perpetuate reefer madness, claiming marijuana is addictive, and reminding us that it is illegal. Not a peep about medicinal marijuana: Just the same old anti-cannabis crap.
    06/27/2012Share:DEAR ABBY: My husband, who is 53, talks often about his college days when he smoked marijuana. I tried it once and didn’t like it. Over the past several years he has started smoking it again.I have told him I don’t approve, but he says he does it only occasionally “to take the edge off.” Many times he has smoked when we’re out on bike rides, on road trips or a Sunday drive. It makes me feel like he needs to be high in order to have a good time with me.I tried compromising by asking him not to do it when we are together. He agreed, but he doesn’t keep his word. He does it thinking I don’t know what he’s up to. I have noticed that he is becoming forgetful and is sometimes unable to understand information. Is this a midlife crisis he’s going through? How do I get him to stop? — MRS. POTHEAD IN WINONA, MINN.DEAR MRS. POTHEAD: It’s not a midlife crisis. I’m told that the grass that’s available today is far stronger than when your hubby smoked it in college.Your husband may be becoming forgetful and unable to process information because he’s smoking pot a lot, or because of a neurological problem. Because marijuana slows reaction time, he should not be driving while under the influence, and you shouldn’t be riding with him.Since you can’t convince him to stop, you could benefit from visiting a support group for families and friends of individuals who are addicted to drugs, because marijuana is one, and it appears your husband has become addicted.

  2. I had a friend who eventually made detective in a large northwest metropolitan department confide in me that he hadn’t had to buy pot for years when he was a patrolman or especially when he was a traffic officer in the late 70’s early 80’s. He said it was almost a given that a car load of young minorities had at least one bag of weed in it. Typically after pulling the vehicle over, he’d find a bag on the floor or on the seat. When he went around to everyone in the car and asked if this weed was yours, of course nobody would admit who it belonged to. So he would “take it into evidence” and of course the evidence locker just happened to be at his house. Now to this guy’s credit he only occasionally toked (he was also a special forces type in Viet Nam that learned to smoke “world class” weed there) but his wife was extra fond of the weed and I think he worried more about them finding that out then about any kind of shake-downs that may have occurred along the way. But this was never as bad as what’s going on in New York and the only excuse would be that this was 30 years ago and that’s how things were done. But a shake down is a shake down and this kind of behavior by those who should know better (not to mention the oath to protect & serve) has been going forever. You’ve heard of the world’s oldest profession??? This….crooked cop, shake-down thingy is the world’s second oldest. profession….

  3. aka Th Floridabadger on

    TOTAL ABYSE OF POWER!! They knew they were in the wrong and just wanted to see how much money would be obtained b4 people got wise to their greed!

  4. Look at videos from the LA riots
    grow weed in your home you could have dozens of armed swat teams in your home,
    maybe that is why the cops were absent from the riots
    do you feel protected ?

  5. It’s easier for them to arrest a “non-violent” pot offender than a rapest, murderer, wife-beater or even a drunk – goes on to prove just how innocuous marijuana really is.

  6. Patriot act pretty much annihilates the US constitution
    Ny 30 years I never got bothered , but hey im “white”
    just sayin!

  7. They do it for ONE REASON and ONE REASON only… It’s a MUCH EASIER arrest using “Stop and Frisk” than having to actually PERFORM REAL Police work. It’s EASY to pad their precincts arrest statistics so that they don’t get their asses ripped for making LESS arrests in 2012 than in 2011. If we hold our Police Depts. success to be determined on the QUANTITY of arrests versus the QUALITY of arrests, we’re setting the system up to VIOLATE more citizens PRIVACY rights. We need to hold our Govt.to the LIMITED roll that our founding forefathers wrote for it into our Constitution

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