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Judge: Suffolk Police Dept. Should Have Known It Targeted Latinos

Law enforcement stops a driver.
Rich Pedroncelli

A federal judge has rejected Suffolk County’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit against its police department involving allegedly discriminatory traffic stops. This is the latest decision in a class action lawsuit first filed in 2015 that alleges Suffolk police knowingly policed Latinos unfairly, stopping them more frequently than white drivers.

The court dismissed the county’s defense that the Justice Department was already supervising Suffolk police and that they found nothing wrong. Judge William Kuntz ??said Suffolk failed to “make any serious attempt to change their practices.”

The judge said if Suffolk collected the data correctly it would have shown that “officers targeted Latinos and subjected them to disparate treatment.” He said that amounts to “deliberate indifference to widespread constitutional violation.”

The ruling also finds that former Police Commissioner Ed Webber and now-deputy chief of internal affairs Milagros Soto may have been aware of the biased policing.

The civil rights group LatinoJustice calls this a preliminary win for police reform. Jose Perez is the group’s deputy counsel.

“We’re going to trial unless the county wakes up and comes to the table with a meaningful, substantive settlement proposal,” Perez said.

Atara Miller, a litigation partner at Milbank LLP, is the lead attorney on the lawsuit for LatinoJustice.

“We are not going to take anything less than real oversight, whether it’s an independent monitor, whether it’s community oversight,” Miller said.

It’s unclear if Suffolk County will go to trial. They did not respond to requests for comment.

In April, Suffolk completed state-mandated police reform. Its human rights commission now has additional lawyers to check on the police’s internal affairs department. LatinoJustice is not confident that’s enough to change the policies and practices of Suffolk police.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.