Civil rights groups sue NYPD over Muslim spying

A new lawsuit claims surveillance has hindered the ability of residents to freely practice their religion

Published June 18, 2013 9:12PM (EDT)

 NYPD officers             (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)
NYPD officers (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Civil rights lawyers will urge a federal judge to declare the New York Police Department's widespread spying programs directed at Muslims to be unconstitutional, order police to stop their surveillance and destroy any records in police files.

In a lawsuit being filed Tuesday, the lawyers said the spying has hindered the ability of residents to freely practice their religion. It is the third significant legal action filed against the NYPD Muslim surveillance program since details of the spy program were revealed in a series of Associated Press reports in 2011 and 2012.

The lawsuit said that Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behavior so as not to draw additional police attention. The suit is expected to be filed against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly and the deputy commissioner of intelligence, David Cohen.

The lawsuit, which accuses the city of violating the First and Fourteenth amendments, is the latest legal challenge to the activities of the NYPD Intelligence Division. A year ago, the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates sued the NYPD over its counterterrorism programs. Earlier this year, civil rights lawyers urged a judge to stop the NYPD from routinely observing Muslims in restaurants, bookstores and mosques, saying the practice violates a landmark 1985 court settlement that restricted the kind of surveillance used against war protesters in the 1960s and '70s.

"Through the Muslim Surveillance Program, the NYPD has imposed an unwarranted badge of suspicion and stigma on law-abiding Muslim New Yorkers, including plaintiffs in this action," according to the complaint, which is being filed in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organization. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU announced details of its lawsuit on its website Tuesday morning, before the lawsuit was filed.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a phone call and email asking for comment.

The lawsuit describes a pattern of NYPD spying directed at Muslims in New York since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

One of the plaintiffs, Hamid Hassan Raza, said he began taping his sermons at a Brooklyn mosque because of concerns that the NYPD was monitoring what he said and would take his words out of context. In addition, Raza and other religious leaders became highly suspicious of new members eager to join their communities because of the department's rampant use of secret informants, the complaint said.

"Knowledge and justifiable fear of NYPD surveillance of Masjid Al-Ansar have forced Imam Raza to keep his distance from newcomers to the mosque," the complaint said. "Almost every time that a new, unfamiliar person attends the mosque, one of the mosque's regular worshippers warns Imam Raza about the newcomer and shares suspicions that he might be a police informant."

The lawsuit also details how the NYPD used an informant to spy on 20-year-old Asad Dandia, who ran a charitable organization called "Muslims Giving Back." Dandia's group gave food to needy community members. An NYPD informant, Shamiur Rahman, acknowledged last year in an interview with the AP that he had spied on Dandia on others.

"Once it became public that Rahman had infiltrated Muslims Giving Back as an NYPD informant, the charity was stigmatized, and its reputation and legitimacy within the Brighton Beach community was deeply damaged," the complaint said. The charity's ability to raise money and help the community has declined because it's been targeted by NYPD counterterrorism programs.

The plaintiffs are asking a judge to appoint a monitor to ensure the police department follows the law. This is second time this month that the prospect of a court-appointed monitor has been raised for the NYPD. The department's stop-and-frisk tactic that overwhelming targets minorities has come under fire, with a trial recently ending in federal court that could decide whether the policing practice is unconstitutional. If the judge rules against the NYPD in the stop-and-frisk case, the Justice Department said it would support appointing a federal monitor. Kelly and Bloomberg have defended both programs and said federal oversight would put the city in danger.


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