Ever since a federal judge ruled that the NYPD's use of stop and frisk was unconstitutional, the department has been forced to make clear to its officers when and how they can legally conduct a stop. To stop and physically frisk someone (what's referred to as a Level 3 or "Terry stop") an NYPD officer needs reasonable suspicion that someone has recently committed, or is about to commit a crime, and that they are armed or potentially dangerous. This video, taken in September of 2019, shows a plainclothes NYPD officer pat down two young men in the Bronx, seemingly without any justification.
The entire encounter, captured on video by Destin Burgess, takes around 30 seconds. An unmarked police car pulls up on a group of three young men standing outside a NYCHA building in Throggs Neck, an officer wordlessly exits and begins patting down Burgess' friend, before turning to Burgess.
"Sup, Mister Burgess?" the cop is heard asking.
"Y'all do this to us every day," Burgess says as the officers get back in the car. "You're not gonna find nothing because we don't do nothing."
Under the Right to Know Act, which the City Council passed in 2018, NYPD officers conducting Level 3 stops are required to identify themselves, explain why they are making the stop, and offer the person stopped a business card with the officer's name and shield number on the card.
The Legal Aid Society, who is representing Burgess, released the video because they say it illustrates the kind of police harassment he encountered a year earlier, on September 15th, 2018, when housing police officers from PSA 8 stopped Burgess on Dewey Avenue shortly after 1 a.m.
According to a criminal complaint against Burgess, the then-18-year-old spit in the face of officer Dionis Veras, and physically resisted being placed under arrest. Burgess was charged with resisting arrest and harassment, both misdemeanors.
Burgess, who has no prior criminal record, denies spitting in Officer Veras's face, and counters that when he questioned why he was being searched for no reason, he was arrested and punched in the face.
Legal Aid also says that the Office of Bronx DA Darcel Clark has dragged Burgess's case on for more than a year, and that Burgess has shown up for eight separate court dates only to be told that the prosecution is not ready to proceed.
"Officers in the Bronx and other boroughs routinely profile and subject our clients and other New Yorkers of color to searches such as this one with impunity," said Shannon Griffin, a staff attorney with the Bronx Trial Office at The Legal Aid Society. "We are calling on the Bronx District Attorney’s Office to dismiss the charges pending against our client—which arose from an incident nearly identical to what is captured in the video depicting the violation of his rights."
Griffin also called for "action from the DA’s office and the NYPD to hold these officers accountable for flouting the law.”
In a statement, an NYPD spokesperson confirmed that the stop captured in the video happened on Thursday, September 12, 2019, at around 4 p.m. at the intersection of Dewey Avenue and Quincy Avenue.
"Police observed a male known to the Department," the statement said. "Based on information obtained from an active and ongoing investigation, a stop was conducted. The incident is under review by the Commanding Officer."
The Bronx's DA's office has not yet returned our request for comment.
After the 2013 stop and frisk ruling, a federal monitor was installed to ensure that the NYPD was complying with a set of court-ordered reforms. In its most recent status report from earlier this year, the monitor reported that two major problems are persisting: officers don't record and report their stops as required, and supervisors aren't reviewing enough of the reported stops to make sure they are legal. The former problem reflects what some legal experts have said explained the NYPD's huge decrease in stops before the 2013 ruling was even issued: cops just stopped writing the stops down.
"In 2017, there were only 11,629 reported stops, while there are more than 22,000 patrol officers and sergeants," the report reads.
In a statement, the NYPD said the dramatic decrease in recorded stops "reflects the deliberate shift in NYPD strategic focus over the past several years to precise, surgical targeting of crime and criminals."
The statement continues:
The result is lower crime, fewer stops, and fewer arrests and summonses. NYPD officers and supervisors are instrumental in implementing this new strategic focus, and continue to refine tactics to ensure that every stop is appropriately documented and meets constitutional standards. This not only makes New York City the safest big city in America, but also one with fewer confrontational encounters between police and residents.
This story has been updated to include comments from the NYPD.