Federal Lawsuit Targets Spying By New York City Police Department In The City And New Jersey

June 6, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in New Jersey to force the New York Police Department to end its surveillance and other intelligence-gathering practices targeting Muslims in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The lawsuit alleged that the police activities were unconstitutional because they focused on people’s religion, national origin and race.

It is the first lawsuit to directly challenge the NYPD’s surveillance programs, which were the subject of an investigative series by The Associated Press since last year. Based on internal NYPD reports and interviews with officials involved in the programs, the AP reported that the NYPD conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.

Syed Farhaj Hassan, one of the plaintiffs, stopped attending one mosque as often after he learned it was one of four where he worships that were included in NYPD files. Those mosques were located along the East Coast from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs, but none was linked to terrorism, either publicly or in the confidential NYPD documents.

Hassan, an Army reservist from a small town outside of New Brunswick, N.J., said he was concerned that anything linking his life to potential terrorism would hurt his military security clearance.

“Guilt by association was forced on me,” Hassan said.

The NYPD did not respond to questions about the lawsuit but noted the New Jersey attorney general determined last month that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said his department is obligated to do this type of surveillance in order to protect New York from another 9/11. Kelly has said the 2001 attacks proved that New Yorkers could not rely solely on the federal government for protection, and the NYPD needed to enhance its efforts.

Hassan said he served in Iraq in 2003 to stop the atrocities of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

“I didn’t know they had one across the Hudson,” he said, referring to the NYPD intelligence division.

California-based Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization that meets regularly with representatives of the Obama administration, is representing the plaintiffs in the case for free.

“The NYPD program is founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets,” the lawsuit said.

New Jersey lawmakers were outraged earlier this year when they learned of the surveillance. But after a three-month review, the state’s attorney general found that the NYPD did not violate any state laws when it spied on Muslim neighborhoods and organizations. The attorney general found no recourse for the state of New Jersey to stop the NYPD from infiltrating Muslim student groups, video-taping mosque-goers or collecting their license plate numbers as they prayed.

No court has ruled that the NYPD programs were illegal. But the division operates without significant oversight: The New York City Council does not believe it has the expertise to oversee the intelligence division, and Congress believes the NYPD is not part of its jurisdiction even though the police department receives billions in federal funding each year.

Members of Congress and civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s practices. A Justice Department spokeswoman said they are still reviewing the requests. Federal investigations into police departments typically focus on police abuse or racial profiling in arrests. Since 9/11, the Justice Department has never publicly investigated a police department for its surveillance in national security investigations.

Because of widespread civil rights abuses during the 1950s and 1960s, the NYPD has been limited by a court order in what intelligence it can gather on innocent people. Lawyers in that case have questioned whether the post-9/11 spying violates that order. The lawsuit filed Wednesday is a separate legal challenge.

The NYPD and New York officials have said the surveillance programs violated no one’s constitutional rights, and the NYPD is allowed to travel anywhere to collect information. Officials have said NYPD lawyers closely review the intelligence division’s programs.

“The constitutional violation that the NYPD did commit was blanket surveillance of a group based on religion,” said Glenn Katon, Muslim Advocate’s legal director. He said a program that treats people differently based on religion, national origin or race is subject to the Constitution. “That’s the crux of our claim,” he said.

A George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley, said it would be a challenge to convince the government that the NYPD’s practices were illegal because the courts and Congress have allowed more and more surveillance in the years since 9/11. But, he said, most of these questions have been handled in policy debates and not in the court systems.

Nineteen-year-old Moiz Mohammed, a sophomore at Rutgers University, said he was moved to join the lawsuit after reading reports that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at colleges across the Northeast, including his own. He said the revelations had made him nervous to pray in public or engage in lively debates with fellow students — a practice he said he once most enjoyed about the college atmosphere.

“It’s such an unfair thing going on: Here I am, I am an American citizen, I was born here, I am law abiding, I volunteer in my community, I have dialogues and good relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and the NYPD here is surveilling people like me?”

“We feel as though it was a violation of our constitutional and our civil and our human rights,” said Abdul Kareem Muhammad, one of the plaintiff’s in the case. Muhammad is the imam of the Newark mosque, Masjid al-Haqq. That mosque was listed and pictured in a September 2007 NYPD report on Newark.

“We have a very strong objection to that,” Muhammad said. “We condemn and denounce every form of terrorism.”

Muhammad said he and other Muslim community leaders have not been given assurances that the NYPD is no longer conducting surveillance on their communities.

“That’s become very disturbing, too,” Muhammad said. “There’s a possibility that this is still going on.”

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Victim’s Family Awarded $2 Million By Federal Court After California Highway Patrol Officers Shot And Killed Unarmed Driver

May 23, 2012

CALIFORNIA – A Sacramento federal judge has ordered damages of more than $2 million assessed against two California Highway Patrol officers, the agency itself, and the state in the death of a 21-year-old Stockton man.

In a four-page order and judgment Monday, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said she interprets a somewhat ambiguous jury verdict in January to reflect the panel’s intention to assess economic damages of $6,000 and non-economic damages of $1 million against each of the officers, Michael Walling and Stephen Coffman, for shooting to death Joseph Pinasco Jr.

She also ruled that the CHP and the state are jointly liable for the $2,012,000 in judgments against Walling and Coffman.

In court papers and oral arguments since the verdict, the two sides differed on how to decipher the trial’s outcome, and Mueller sided with Arnold Wolf, attorney for Pinasco’s parents, Joseph and Toni Pinasco, who sued over their son’s death.

The parents own a Stockton plumbing and heating company.

Attorneys for the defendants argued the award should be reduced based on a comparative-fault analysis, in which the young man presumably would be found partially to blame.

But Mueller said, “A fair reading of the verdict is that the jury based its wrongful death determination on the officers’ wrongful acts. Accordingly, principles of comparative fault are inapplicable.”

The state is expected to appeal.

Walling and Coffman are still CHP officers, and Walling was promoted to sergeant after the incident.

They responded in the early hours of Aug. 24, 2008, to reports of street racing. Pinasco, who had been drinking with friends that night, was sitting in a parked pickup in the vicinity of the purported racing. As the officers approached in their car, he pulled away and led them on a high-speed chase. The pickup spun out of control on a dirt road and got stuck in a ditch in a rural area of eastern San Joaquin County.

Walling and Coffman exited their car and drew their guns. Pinasco was still seated behind the steering wheel of the truck and, as Walling approached, he started accelerating and rocking the pickup in an attempt to escape the ditch.

The officers yelled commands for Pinasco to stop and show his hands and Walling banged on the pickup’s windshield with his flashlight, but the truck continued to rock and the officers perceived it was getting traction in Coffman’s direction.

Both officers fired their weapons at Pinasco. They did so, they say, based on a shared fear that Coffman would be seriously injured or killed.

In one of the few differences on the facts, Wolf claims in court papers that the truck was traveling away from the officers as Pinasco began to extricate it from the ditch. It traveled 19 feet before coming to rest against a fence.

Of the 23 shots fired by the officers, six hit Pinasco in the head, face and neck, and one hit his left thigh. He was pronounced dead at the scene. His blood-alcohol level was measured at nearly three times the legal limit for driving.

In early 2009, the CHP’s investigative services unit issued a report concluding the shooting was justified because the pickup was moving toward Coffman. In April 2009, the San Joaquin County district attorney issued a report with the same finding.

According to Wolf’s trial brief, “Neither report bears any resemblance to (another unit of the CHP’s) reconstruction of the pickup truck’s movement before and during the shooting,” or to the state Department of Justice’s analysis of the bullets’ trajectory, “neither of which suggested that the pickup’s movement ever jeopardized Coffman.”

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Pampered US Department Of Labor Employees Upset That They’ll Now Have To Pay Parking Rates ‘Slightly Below’ Average In Washington DC Area

May 23, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Alex Bastani, president of the local 12 chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told union members that they are filing a complaint against the Department of Labor that may develop into a class action lawsuit.

AFGE is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, a mega-union that has endorsed President Obama, but parking rate increases at DOL have Local 12 up in arms against the Obama administration.

“Management has made it clear that it intends to move forward on July 1st with the parking increase without the involvement of the Union and despite any hardship expressed by the employees,” Bastani wrote to union members in an email obtained by The Washington Examiner.

The union is angry about losing a $35 per month parking fee as the DOL turns management of its parking spaces over to a private contractor. “The eventual contractor will charge ‘slightly below’ the average Washington rate of ‘$220 to $260/month,'” The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard explained, per Labor Department official Al Stewart’s announcement of the change.

“We will be filing a complaint with the Federal Service Impasses Panel requesting an order that the United States Department of Labor be compelled to bargain with us over its decision to contract out the parking, [and the] increase in rates,” Bastani told members.

Local 12 will also attempt to haul the Obama administration before the Federal Labor Relations Board, and may file a civil lawsuit against the Labor Department. “We will also explore whether a class action can be filed pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act for those employees who are disabled and park in the Frances Perkins Building Garage,” Bastani wrote.

In the meantime, they will organize more public protests.

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Class Action Lawsuit Charges Florida Highway Patrol With Illegally Ticketing More Than 10,429 Innocent Motorists

August 26, 2011

TAMPA, FLORIDA – When the Florida Highway Patrol pulls someone over on the highway, it’s usually because they were speeding.

But Eric Campbell was pulled over and ticketed while he was driving the speed limit.

Campbell says, “I was coming up the Veterans Expressway and I notice two Florida Highway Patrol Cars sitting on the side of the road in the median, with lights off.”

Campbell says he did what he always does: flashed his lights on and off to warn drivers coming from the other direction that there was speed trap ahead.

According to Campbell, 60 seconds after passing the trooper, “They were on my tail and they pulled me over.”

Campbell says the FHP trooper wrote him a ticket for improper flashing of high beams. Campbell says the trooper told him what he had done was illegal.

But later Campbell learned that is not the case. He filed a class action suit which says “Florida Statue 316.2397” — under which Campbell was cited — “does not prohibit the flashing of headlights as a means of communications, nor does it in any way reference flashing headlights or the use of high beams.”

However, the FHP trooper who wrote the ticket either didn’t know or didn’t care. “You could tell in his voice he was upset,” Campbell says. “He was professional, he wasn’t rude… but you could tell he was irritated.”

However, the lawsuit says the FHP is well aware they are wrongfully applying the state law and they are doing it as a means of generating revenue. In 2005, a court order was even issued saying the state law doesn’t prohibit the flashing of vehicle headlights.

Campbell isn’t the only one. Since 2005, FHP records show more than 10,429 drivers have been cited under the statute.

In addition to seeking the refund of the $100 ticket, the lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $15,000.

What’s that costing you?

If each person illegally cited was awarded $15,000 that would be $156,435,000 in damages if the suit is successful. Then you would throw in at least another $1,042,900 in ticket refunds, all because it appears troopers don’t like motorists warning others about speed traps.

Campbell says he felt as if the trooper thought it was a personal affront. According to Campbell, the trooper did not like the fact somebody was ratting him out.

The Florida Highway Patrol says it can’t comment because of the pending lawsuit.

Campbell says FHP had no right to ticket him or anyone under the current law and he adds the agency is not being honest when it says it doesn’t write tickets to increase revenue or punish people, but rather to get the motorist to slow down on the highway. If that were true, Campbell says the FHP should be delighted with him, because drivers did slow down before troopers could give them a ticket.

The suit evolved out the fact that Campbell says “I don’t like what the government is dong especially now when most people have a hard time affording gas and now they have to defend themselves against a made up charge that doesn’t exist.”

The state will have to come up with the money for damages if the suit is successful, and guess where the money is coming from: your taxes.

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Department Of Justice Still Hiding Documents, Won’t Pay Claim, After FBI Agent Wrecked $750,000 Ferrari During Joyride

May 28, 2011

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – An FBI agent assigned to move a rare Ferrari wrecked it during a short drive in Kentucky, and its owner is now suing the U.S. Justice Department, which has refused to pay $750,000 for the car.

The Justice Department recently responded to the lawsuit by saying it’s not liable for certain goods when they’re in the hands of law enforcement. The government also has refused to release most documents related to the crash.

The Ferrari F50 was stolen in 2003 from a dealer in Rosemont, Pa., and discovered five years later. The FBI kept it in Lexington, Ky., as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

FBI agent Fred Kingston was to move the Ferrari from a garage in May 2009. Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson said Kingston invited him on a “short ride.”

“Just a few seconds after we left the parking lot, we went around a curve and the rear of the car began sliding,” Thompson said in an email released to Motors Insurance Co., the dealer’s insurer.

“The agent tried to regain control but the car fishtailed and slid sideways up onto the curb. The vehicle came to rest against a row of bushes and a small tree,” Thompson said.

He was not hurt, but Kingston needed a few stitches for a cut on his head.

Motors Insurance took ownership of the car after it paid the dealer for the theft. The company told the government that the 1995 Ferrari, one of only 50 in the U.S., suffered substantial damage in the Kentucky crash and is a “total loss.”

“At heart, it is a race vehicle” and is not built like a typical car, truck or SUV, the insurer said in a claim for payment, partly explaining why it sought $750,000.

The Southfield, Mich.-based company filed a lawsuit in March after the Justice Department refused to pay. Motors Insurance has also filed a lawsuit to try to get records about the incident through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The government has been secretive, saying most records are exempt. It only released Thompson’s email.

“We don’t really know what happened. We’ve asked for a lot of information,” Motors Insurance attorney Richard Kraus said in an interview this week.

A judge has set a June 13 hearing in the case.

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Woman Awarded $82,000 After Arrest For Trying To Read Portland Oregon Police Officer’s Name Tag, Asking For ID

April 16, 2011

PORTLAND, OREGON – A Portland jury has awarded a woman $82,000, after she was arrested when asking a police officer for a business card.

The woman, Shei’Meka Newmann, had sued the Portland police department, after she had watched the arrest of a man in 2009, questioned the arrest, asked an officer for a business card, and was arrested herself, The Oregonian reported.

“I think that police need to be reminded that it’s part of their job to de-escalate and defuse situations,” juror Chris Bolles told the paper after the trial Thursday. Jurors also said it would have taken just a few seconds for the officer to give Newmann his card.

Newmann had thought the arrest of the man, at a Portland light-rail station, was rough, and had sought the identities of the officers involved. But when she asked for a business card and tried to read an officer’s name on his uniform, she was arrested, the paper reported.

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Lawsuit Charges Denver Colorado TSA With Sexual Assault – TSA Agent Concentrated Only On Man’s Genitals After Trying To Force Man Into Body Scanner

April 16, 2011

DENVER, COLORADO – Geoff Biddulph of Berthoud, Colo. is a frequent flyer. He travels at least 30 times a year for business and has been “pat down” by airport security all across the world.

But he says he has never experienced anything like the pat down he got at Denver International Airport on April 5th.

“I felt like I was sexually assaulted,” he said.

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Biddulph says he was line at the security checkpoint waiting to go through the metal detector when a Transportation Security Administration agent tried to force him to go through the body scanner.

“A TSA agent literally started pushing me towards this other line,” he told us.

Biddulph asked the TSA agent why he was being moved, and that’s when he says the agent called a supervisor, threatened to kick him out of the airport and began an “inappropriate pat down.”

Biddulph says the TSA agent rubbed his groin area, buttocks and stuck his hand down his pants.

“He was only focused on my private parts,” Biddulph said.

Biddulph filed a report with Denver Police and filed a complaint with the TSA.

He received a response from a TSA customer service representative that said, in part, “I regret this incident and the rude behavior you have described is unacceptable. I have forwarded your report to our operations managers. I have asked them to investigate and act as appropriate.”

Still, Biddulph believes TSA needs to take a closer look at their pat down procedures.

“We have the right to reasonable search and seizures. This is not reasonable. It’s not reasonable to have somebody shoving his hands down your pants,” he said.

TSA spokesperson Carrie Harmon tells FOX 31 News they have received 898 complaints about pat downs from November 2010 to March of 2011.

She points out over 251 million people passed through the nation’s airports during that span of time.

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