Class Action Lawsuit Lands 'Operation: Clean Halls' In Federal Courthouse

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There was a court hearing Monday on the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program at apartment buildings. The hearing was part of a federal class action suit filed in March.

It’s called “Operation: Clean Halls,” but critics said the trespassing stops by the NYPD are anything but clean, CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey reported.

“We were stopped, frisked, and arrested for trespassing,” Bronx resident Angel Ortiz said.

Ortiz was one of thousands stopped, questioned and searched by the NYPD, largely because his building owner has given police permission to question anyone who may be trespassing.

1010 WINS’ Al Jones reports

“I was stopped, frisked, of course, and I was basically stripped of my rights and arrested for no apparent reason, for visiting a friend,” Ortiz told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones.

The program, in existence for 20 years, allows city police to patrol privately owned buildings and question anyone they may see in the hallways or common areas.

But this class action lawsuit, being heard in federal court, accuses the NYPD of a “…phenomenon of systematic suspicion-less stops and arrests,” and that “Police harassment is so pervasive that adults cannot gather in their own courtyard.”

Residents echoed those charges on Monday.

“It’s infuriating,” Dinah Ortiz said. “I think that they’re abusing their power.”

Testimony inside the federal courthouse showed the problem was so bad in the Bronx the DA’s office changed its policy and insisted on speaking to the arresting officer before prosecuting a case. The assistant DA testified, saying “We were getting people who were arrested in their own buildings. We have to clean up our act. We have to get better at this.”

But owner James Demetriou said he has a dozen buildings enrolled in Operation: Clean Halls and said it’s just like having cameras in the buildings.

“When you have one bad apple, it’s going to ruin the entire building,” Demetriou said. “It’s proactive. It protects all the tenants of the building. And as far as I’m concerned, going forward, it provides an extra added security.”

For its part, the city said, “We believe stopping trespassers inside and outside is constitutional. There are systems in place designed to make sure officers know when it’s OK to do so.”

The NYPD said it’s trying to offer the same kind of protection residents might get from a doorman, but the New York Civil Liberties Union said the Department is going over the line regularly.

Ortiz said he’s optimistic this class-action suit will lead to big changes.

“It should have been done sooner but I’m glad I’m one of the first cases because hopefully, I’m one of the last,” Ortiz told Jones.

Those who have claimed to have been victims of unlawful arrests will testify Tuesday.

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