Judge Faults NYPD Tactics in Gun Seizure

April 13, 1999 12:00 am

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NEW YORK, NY — Amid public debate over the tactics of New York City police officers, a federal judge in Manhattan has ruled that the police violated the rights of a man who was stopped, searched and arrested in 1997 for carrying an illegal handgun and fake immigration papers, the New York Times reported today.

Judge Denny Chin of Federal District Court in Manhattan said that officers’ belief that the man might be preparing to rob a telephone store did not justify stopping him under the law. He ruled that the evidence from the search could not be used in court.

According to the Times, Candido Arenas Jr., a Mexican who was in the United States illegally, has been charged with possession of fraudulent immigration papers and possession of a firearm by an illegal alien.

Arenas, his brother and a friend first drew the attention of the officers because of the way they were dressed, the officers said.

One officer “”suspected that the three men might be up to mischief,”” the judge said. The men were eventually stopped when the officers saw Mr. Arenas reach into his pocket, pull out an object, and place it in another pocket. The police found a handgun as well as some ammunition and a forged immigration document.

The police contend that the stop was justified, but Judge Chin said that, when looked at objectively, the men’s activity was innocent. The Times reports that the judge said the police had little more than a vague suspicion that the men were about to commit a crime, and “”that pausing every now and then to window-shop … and eventually walking home was no different from the kind of conduct engaged in by thousands of people in this city every day.””

The ruling drew praise from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been a strong critic of New York Police Department behavior.

“”Judges don’t write in a vacuum,”” Norman Siegel, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the Times. “”He’s sending a message to the NYPD that their action on the streets is constitutionally suspect. If in fact the police are mirroring these officers’ actions out on the street, this decision is saying, ‘Stop immediately.'””

The ruling comes as the office of Mary Jo White, the United States Attorney in Manhattan, is investigating the Police Department’s Street Crime Unit for patterns or practices that may violate peoples’ civil rights, the Times noted.

Judge Chin’s ruling comes in the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision curtailing the privacy rights of automobile passengers. Link to /news/1999/w040699a.html to learn about the ruling that lets a police officer search a passenger’s belongings simply because he suspects the driver has done something wrong.

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