Criticizes Police Methods of Questioning War Protesters
The New York Times
August 8, 2003
A federal judge in
Manhattan criticized police officials yesterday for the way demonstrators
against the war in Iraq were interrogated earlier this year, and
he made clear that civil liberties lawyers could seek to hold
the city in contempt of court in the future if the police violate
The judge, Charles
S. Haight Jr. of Federal District Court, who recently eased court-ordered
rules on police surveillance of political groups, made his comments
after hearing evidence that the police had asked the protesters
their views on the war, whether they hated President Bush, if
they had traveled to Africa or the Middle East, and what might
be different if Al Gore were president.
events reveal an N.Y.P.D. in some need of discipline," Judge
Haight wrote, citing what he called a "display of operational
ignorance on the part of the N.Y.P.D.'s highest officials."
In his ruling, Judge
Haight cited comments in the news media by the police commissioner,
Raymond W. Kelly, that he and his deputy commissioner for intelligence,
David Cohen, were unaware that the police were using what they
called a "debriefing form" in the questioning.
"The two commissioners
should have known," the judge wrote.
In February, Judge
Haight agreed to modify a longstanding court order that had restricted
the Police Department's ability to conduct surveillance of political
groups. Police officials had said they needed greater flexibility
in investigating terrorism, and the judge agreed to ease the rules,
citing "fundamental changes in the threats to public security."
The original rules
were known as the Handschu agreement, named for the first listed
plaintiff in a 1971 lawsuit over harassment of political advocacy
groups by the Police Department's so-called Red Squad.
Haight did not impose new restrictions on the police in the wake
of the interrogations, which first came to light after the New
York Civil Liberties Union received complaints from protesters.
Nor did the judge decide the issue of whether the interrogations
violated the protesters' constitutional rights.
But he said he would
formally incorporate the recently eased rules into a judicial
decree, to make clear that lawyers could return to court and seek
to hold the city in contempt if they believed that a violation
of the rules also violated an individual's constitutional rights.
gives the plaintiff class an increased protection warranted by
recent events without unfairly burdening the N.Y.P.D.," the
judge said. The ruling, he added, should not "unduly trouble
the N.Y.P.D., which I will assume is not engaged in thinking up
ways to violate the Constitution."
Jethro M. Eisenstein,
a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that the judge made clear "that
these rules are not window dressing."
rules, they limit what the Police Department can do, and if the
Police Department goes beyond them, they face the risk of being
held in contempt," he said, adding that contempt power can
result in swift fines and imprisonment. "You don't have to
start a lawsuit and reinvent the wheel."
who said he had not read the entire ruling, noted that the judge
had not altered the recent modifications for which the Police
Department had petitioned, "so it allows us to go forward."
"I think significant
for us, the modifications that were made stay in place,"
the commissioner said.
Gail Donoghue, special
assistant to the city corporation counsel, said, "The city
feels that the decision has not adversely impacted on the N.Y.P.D.'s
ability to remain proactive in the investigation and prevention