NEW YORK (AP) — A police officer testified Wednesday that he taunted a potential suspect — who turned out to be an innocent 13-year-old — after he detained the boy under the New York Police Department's disputed program of stopping, questioning and frisking people on city streets.
Called as a witness in a civil rights case in federal court in Manhattan, Officer Brian Dennis conceded that he had told a handcuffed Devin Almonor to stop "crying like a little girl."
Asked on cross-examination if he thought the comment was appropriate, Dennis responded, "Looking back, no."
The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the lawsuit on behalf of four black plaintiffs who claim they were stopped by police because of their race. The center alleges that many of the 5 million stops in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men, were made without cause.
Police officials say stop and frisk is a legal crime-stopping tool that has helped drive crime down to record lows. New York City saw the fewest number of murders in 2012 since comparable record keeping in the 1960s, and other major crimes are down to record lows, too.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is hearing the case, has said in earlier rulings that she is deeply concerned about the tactic. She has the power to order reforms to how it is used, which could bring major changes to the force and other departments.
In the second week of the trial, the plaintiffs' lawyers pressed Dennis and another officer, Jonathan Korabel, to explain why they stopped Almonor as he walked alone on a Harlem street in 2010. Dennis testified that while responding to 911 calls about a disorderly crowd in the area, he spotted the teen reach for his waistband as if he had a gun.
"I'm a kid. I'm going home. Leave me alone," Dennis recalled the boy saying.
Dennis testified that when he stopped the boy he assumed he was much older because he was tall for his age and out on the street without supervision at 10 p.m.
Korabel testified that he didn't recall Almonor's objections. He claimed the boy was jaywalking and when stopped, started "yelling and making a scene" and "fighting" when the patrolmen tried to frisk him.
"It was a lawful frisk," Korabel said.
The officers handcuffed Almonor and found no weapon. They took him to a stationhouse.
His father, a retired police officer, was asked to come get him. When the boy's parents arrived, they argued and tussled with police officers, lawyers for the plaintiffs said outside court.
On Wednesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs also introduced an NYPD memo dated March 5 mandating that suspicious behavior prompting certain stops "must be elaborated" — one of the remedies that had been demanded by critics of the practice.
In the past, officers were able to check off "furtive movements" on reports known as "250s" without further explanation. Now, "a description of that movement must be specified," the memo says.