NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A police officer testified Wednesday that he taunted an innocent 13-year-old boy after he detained the teen 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 13-year-old 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.”
Dennis and another officer were undercover when they stopped and frisked Almonor and took him in handcuffs, and in tears, to the 30th precinct.
Dennis testified that he made the stop on a Harlem street corner because the boy had touched his waistband and cops suspected that he had a weapon.
Almonor is the son of a retired police officer. Dennis found no weapon on Almonor and testified that the boy said “I’m a kid. I’m going home. Leave me alone.”
Dennis testified he didn’t believe Almonor was just 13 because he was taller than the officer’s own 13-year-old son.
The officer also conceded that Almonor walking alone did not fit the description of a disorderly crowd fighting in the streets that he and his sergeant were looking for.
An attorney for the plaintiffs said that the officer’s stories about why they were justified in stopping the boy kept changing.
“They knew that there was going to be some review of that because they arrested Devin Almonor’s mother and father at the precinct, so then now they want to beef it up by saying ‘suspicious bulge’ and everything, resisting arrest. I mean, the way they got it, Devin Almonor’s a one-person crime wave,” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Jonathan Moore told reporters including WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell.
Almonor’s parents were charged with trespass and assault when they came to the precinct to pick up their son, Cornell reported.
The civil suit against the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program is in its second week.
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.
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.
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.
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