Stop and Frisk Trial: Secret Recordings may play key role in court case

Here in the Federal Courtroom of Judge Shira Scheindlin, week number three has been no better than the first two for the NYPD. One has to wonder out loud, what is the strategy for the nation’s best police force. Something has to give for the City of NY.

Case in point.

Yes, one could point out that Monday’s major witness is a longtime NYPD critic, and that is State Senator Eric Adams. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denies it, but Adams, a retired police caption himself testified that the Police Commissioner told him in a meeting that he ordered his commanders to "target young black and Hispanic men to instill fear in them that any time they leave their homes they could be targeted by police.

Adam’s testimony was followed up just 24 hours later with yet again secret recordings from whistle-blower officers. This time Deputy Inspector Mauriello, the commanding officer of the 81 precinct in Brooklyn, found himself on the hot seat, where it was either Mauriello or one of his supervising officers caught on tape making highly questionable comments.

The Deputy Inspector said the comments were taken out of context, or that his sergeant was talking about criminals and gang members in the recordings, not law-abiding citizens. Some of the quotes attributed to Mauriello and company:

"If you get too big of a crowd there, they are going to get out of control and they are going to think they own the block," a speaker on one of the recordings said. "We own the block. They don't own the block. They might live there, but we own the block. We own the streets here."

Referring to a residential building in Brooklyn, 120 Chauncey where police said there had been shootings three days in a row…a "Sergeant Stoops" (under the command of Mauriello) is recorded saying:

“Anybody coming out of the building give me a 250." Which means search them and complete the necessary paperwork.

On the stand Deputy Inspector Mauriello admitted it was a poor choice of words.

But there was more.

“Bring in groups, herd them in here.” Everybody goes tonight. Zero tolerance.”

Some of the recordings do suggest NYPD bosses wanted to make sure police were doing their jobs and not just hanging out in police cars, but in another recording:

“If a young person was seen with a bandana handkerchief sticking out of the pocket, cops were told to 250 them.” Again police language for a stop and frisk.

Afterwards, Deputy Inspector Mauriello quickly exited, and disappeared into an empty courtroom. (about four people appeared to be with him) Mauriello didn’t come out until about 20 minutes later.

I rode down in the elevator with him from the 15th floor. Other reporters managed to get into the elevator and all Mauriello would say was it was his honor to serve the people of Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn. You could cut the tension with a knife. Then one of the reporters asked him what about those Mets? Mauriello left the elevator and was gone, before I could locate our RNN Cameraman.

If Mauriello hadn’t tilted the city’s case against them, the city just minutes later found one of their lawyers had got under the skin of Judge Scheindlin:

“Please ask your next question. Move on, that’s what experienced trial lawyers do."

Wed was more damage for the NYPD in the form of Professor Jeffrey Fagan. Here is what my colleague Bob Herbert said in the NY Times a while back:

“The rate of gun seizures is near zero — 0.15 guns seized for every 100 stops. “The N.Y.P.D. stop-and-frisk tactics,” wrote Professor Fagan, “produce rates of seizures of guns or other contraband that are no greater than would be produced simply by chance.”

More important, after studying six years’ worth of data, the professor concluded that many of the millions of stops are violations of the Constitution. One of a number of constitutional problems, according to Professor Fagan, is that the police frequently use race or national origin rather than reasonable suspicion as the basis for the stops.”

The judge also told all of the lawyers involved that she didn't want this trial to go on for two months. She wants them to pick up the pace.

Families that lost loved ones to police violence and opponents of racial profiling gathered outside the courthouse to demand an end to the stop-and-frisk policy.

"I stand here today as one of the mothers who lost two family members: my nephew and my son," said Margarita Rosario of Parents Against Police Brutality. Mrs. Rosario looked me in my face. I covered the case of her son years ago. She said she will never give up the fight.