NEW YORK, March 7, (RTRS): New York City’s police department has agreed to a new settlement in a lawsuit accusing it of illegally targeting Muslims for surveillance, according to court papers filed on Monday, after a federal judge rejected an earlier deal.
The new settlement gives additional powers to a civilian representative charged with reviewing the department’s counterterrorism efforts. Arthur Eisenberg, legal director for New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that the settlement was “even more protective of religious and political freedoms” than the version announced in January 2016. The civil liberties organization represents Muslim individuals and organizations who sued New York City in 2013 in Brooklyn federal court claiming they were targeted by police surveillance. In an order made public last October, US District Judge Charles Haight in Manhattan rejected the original settlement, which also called for a civilian representative. Haight said that deal did not go far enough in ensuring that the police department adhere to court-approved regulations, called the Handschu guidelines, that limit how it can monitor political and religious activity.
The settlement is subject to approval by Haight, who oversees a decades-old class action that gave rise to the Handschu guidelines, and the judge in the Brooklyn case. The new deal gives the civilian representative the power to report on violations of the guidelines to the court at any time, and requires the mayor to get court approval before removing the representative, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The earlier version allowed the mayor to eliminate the position after five years. The civilian representative can now also review how investigations are conducted, not just how they are started or extended. The Handschu Guidelines took the name of the lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu, in a 1971 lawsuit that challenged surveillance of war protesters in the 1960s and ‘70s. Those guidelines were relaxed after Sept. 11 to help police fight terrorism. The agreement covers two cases, the Handschu case and another case filed in 2013 on behalf of mosques, community leaders and other groups who said they were wrongly the target of NYPD surveillance. Hina Shamsi, National Security Project director with the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the 2013 suit with the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision. “As religious bigotry rises to a fever pitch nationwide, this settlement sends the message that Muslims and all New Yorkers will have even stronger protections from unconstitutional religious profiling and surveillance. Federal officials and local police elsewhere should take heed that courageous people like our clients and their supporters will always stand up for constitutional rights and freedoms.” A spokesman for the city said New York is committed to making the relationship between communities and the police stronger.