Lawsuit alleges Buffalo police misconduct

A coalition of community activists and attorneys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Buffalo on Tuesday and sent a letter to State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urging his civil rights division to investigative what they allege is a pattern of unconstitutional practices by the Buffalo Police Department against minority residents.

Anjana Malhotra, co-author of the report and complaint, said her research uncovered a “pattern and practice of discriminatory and unconstitutional police practices.”

“The fourth amendment guarantees to everyone equally that one has a right to be free of unreasonable seizures,” she said at a press conference Tuesday announcing the filings. “[Buffalo Police Department] does not get to choose based on race who gets that guarantee and who doesn’t.”

A two-year study conducted jointly by SUNY Buffalo and Cornell Law School found that the police conduct illegal stops and searches on neighborhood streets and in public housing, particularly in the city’s predominantly black East Side.

According to the study, residents of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority complexes have been repeatedly charged with trespassing en route to their homes or to visit friends and relatives. Traffic checkpoints conducted between 2013-2014 yielded 65,862 tickets, a 62 percent increase from the previous two years before these checkpoints began.

The burden of these policing tactics falls on the city’s black and Latino communities, the study suggests. Researchers found that between 2006 and 2015, African Americans were seven times more likely to be arrested than whites for marijuana possession. Minorities also make up the majority of the population in public housing and the city’s East Side where the traffic checkpoints are apparently conducted most often.

The civil rights complaint also alleges that 44 year-old Dorethea Franklin was the victim of retaliation by police after she spoke out against the traffic checkpoints on social and news media. Franklin’s street was often the site of checkpoints, according to the complaint, which said police conducted a checkpoint on her street almost every Sunday from January 2013 to July 2017.

Following an appearance on a Spectrum News-TWC segment about these checkpoints,  the police cited her for four violations, including one for having garbage in her front yard and having grass over 10 inches tall.

“You feel violated. You feel like you can’t trust the police,” said Franklin at the Tuesday press conference. Asked whether she would call the police in an emergency, Franklin responded: “Absolutely not.”