Group files lawsuit against DC vehicle checkpoints

Group files lawsuit against DC vehicle checkpoints

Posted: 4:59 PM Jun 20, 2008
Last Updated: 4:59 PM Jun 20, 2008
Reporter: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — A civil liberties group filed a lawsuit Friday seeking an injunction against the District of Columbia police department’s vehicle checkpoint program, calling the “military-style” initiative unconstitutional and ineffective.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington by the Partnership for Civil Justice on behalf of four D.C. residents who were stopped by the checkpoints earlier this month in the city’s Trinidad neighborhood.

The initiative was in effect in Trinidad for six days beginning June 7. Officers checked drivers’ ID and turned away those who didn’t have a “legitimate purpose” in the area, such as a doctor’s appointment or church visit.

The group also wants the court to throw out data that police collected on law-abiding citizens who were stopped at the checkpoints.

“The District’s military-style roadblock system … is neither constitutional, nor effective,” the lawsuit states. “There is an urgent need to tackle the problems of violence, street crime, unemployment and education. This roadblock does not address any of them.”

Police say they turned away 46 of the more than 700 vehicles that tried to pass through checkpoints. One person was arrested for driving with alcohol. The neighborhood had no shootings while the checkpoints were in place.

At a D.C. Council hearing Monday, police Chief Cathy Lanier testified that she likely would use the checkpoints again, despite the pleas of several council members who said the tactic had brought the city a rash of bad publicity.

Interim D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles has defended the program, saying the city carefully examined other cases to make sure the initiative passed constitutional muster.

“We’ve heard all his arguments,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney who filed the lawsuit. But she maintained that the checkpoints are “flatly unconstititional.”

Nickles cited a case involving New York City police, who once stopped motorists in the Bronx at random hours to curtail drive-by shootings, drugs and robberies. Neighborhood residents and commercial vehicles were allowed to pass, while others were turned away.

A federal appeals court ruled in 1996 that those police tactics were constitutional, saying that the checkpoints “were reasonably viewed as an effective mechanism” to reduce drive-by shootings. But in a Supreme Court case from 2000, justices struck the roadblocks down, claiming they violated the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

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