Judge Rejects Settlement Over Surveillance of Muslims by New York Police Department

Source: The New York Times

A federal judge has rejected the settlement of a lawsuit stemming from the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims, saying the proposed deal does not provide enough oversight of an agency that he said had shown a “systemic inclination” to ignore rules protecting free speech and religion.

In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, agreed to appoint a civilian lawyer to monitor the department’s counterterrorism activities as a means of settling two lawsuits accusing the city of violating the rights of Muslims over the past decade.

But the judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., in an opinion published on Monday, said the settlement did not go far enough for an agency that had become “accustomed to disregarding” court orders.

“The proposed role and powers of the civilian representative,” Judge Haight wrote, “do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city.”

The decision means lawyers for both sides will have to negotiate changes to the settlement or fight the lawsuit in court. Jethro Eisenstein, a civil rights lawyer in the case, said he and his colleagues planned to discuss the ruling with city lawyers.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department, Nick Paolucci, said: “To the extent that the court’s decision is based in part on an inspector general’s report containing findings with which both the city and class plaintiffs’ counsel variously disagree, we are disappointed that the settlement was not approved as the parties originally proposed. That said, we will explore ways to address the concerns raised by the judge.”

It was Judge Haight who had first acceded to the city’s requests for relaxed rules after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The police commissioner at the time, Raymond W. Kelly, said civilian oversight and traditional restrictions on policing made the city less safe, and the judge agreed, saying the old rules “addressed different perils in a different time.” He eliminated civilian oversight and gave wide authority to the commissioner and his intelligence deputy.

By rejecting the deal, Judge Haight, of United States District Court in Manhattan, made a tacit acknowledgment that he had gone too far in that ruling.

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