Giving Compass' Take:

• Eli Hager reports that a lawsuit has been filed against the New York City and the New York Police Department for illegally using databases of arrests.

• How can funders work to ensure that police departments are following laws intended to protect the public from unfair practices? 

• Learn how aggressive policing hurts minority youth education.  

When a man named J.J. was arrested in the Bronx in 2016, the public defenders assigned to represent him assumed he’d get a good plea deal. After all, it appeared to be a low-level case. J.J. had been a passenger in his friend’s car when police had pulled them over for allegedly failing to signal a turn; the officers then searched the vehicle and found an unlicensed gun inside.

J.J., now 31, was not the owner or driver of the car, yet he was charged with gun possession, according to his attorneys. Still, he had no criminal record, which usually meant that prosecutors would offer him leniency.

Instead, the Bronx District Attorney’s office insisted on prison time for J.J., which confused his lawyers until, just weeks before trial, they were handed the rest of the New York Police Department’s file on him. In it were printouts of a handful of minor nonviolent arrests he’d sustained back in the stop-and-frisk era, when police had been authorized to stop, search and sometimes baselessly arrest people who look like J.J., who is black.

But J.J. had never been convicted of any crime; his past arrests had all been dismissed or dropped. And under two New York state laws from 1976 and 1980, police are supposed to seal or destroy such records. Yet here they were—the old arrest reports, details about J.J.’s appearance, addresses where he’d lived and mugshots of him that should have been deleted—inside the government’s files, contributing to the case against him and to his eventually spending a year in jail on Rikers Island.

“They stopped stop-and-frisk on paper,” J.J. said in an interview with The Marshall Project. “But they’re still keeping these tabs on my people.”

J.J. is one of the lead plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the City of New York and the NYPD brought by the Bronx Defenders, a group that provides free legal services to people who can’t afford a lawyer, and a private law firm. The suit alleges that the police department has for years illegally used databases of arrests that were supposed to have been dropped, declined by prosecutors, downgraded to citations or infractions, or otherwise thrown out in court.

Read the full article about the lawsuit against NYC and the NYPD for illegal use of databases of arrests by Eli Hager at The Marshall Project.