The NYPD will pay more than $1 million in legal fees and damages, and pledge to end religious-based surveillance, as part of a settlement with New Jersey Muslims who alleged that police officers crossed the Hudson River in the years after September 11 to monitor their mosques, stores, and schools.
The lawsuit followed shocking revelations in the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press series that the NYPD cast a wide net in its surveillance of Muslims — even traveling outside New York to photograph license plates parked outside mosques and infiltrate Muslim Student Associations at colleges. The settlement mandates that the NYPD now notify New Jersey authorities, like municipal police and county prosecutors, when operating in their jurisdictions.
Also as part of the settlement, the NYPD confirmed that it dismantled the Demographics Unit that surveilled Muslims, and certain records from the Muslim surveillance operations will be expunged.
This is the third surveillance-related lawsuit that the NYPD has settled. Last year, as part of a settlement in New York, the NYPD barred religious-based surveillance under its so-called Handschu Guidelines and appointed a civilian monitor to oversee investigations of political activity. Its new policies regarding surveillance now extend to New Jersey. The NYPD will also allow the New Jersey plaintiffs to recommend changes to the NYPD’s training policies as they pertain to religion and the First Amendment.
Plaintiffs, including Farhaj Hassan, a sergeant in the Army reserves who attended mosques that were monitored by police, will collect $5,000 out of a total of $72,500 in damages. “My co-plaintiffs and I felt enough is enough and someone had to take a stand, someone had to put their name out there and stand up for America,” said Hassan, who lives in Helmetta, NJ.
The NYPD will pay $47,500 to restaurants, stores, and mosques in New Jersey that suffered economic harm as a result of police activities. Attorneys for the plaintiffs will receive $950,000 in legal fees from the NYPD.
“The city, the NYPD and the plaintiffs worked long and hard, in good faith, to achieve a settlement that provides for more transparency around the policies and practices of the Intelligence Bureau while not hampering our ability to conduct authorized investigations under the Handschu Guidelines,” said John J. Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, in a statement. “Forging partnerships and maintaining the confidence of all communities is an essential element in fighting crime and terrorism.”
According to Muslim Advocates, the organization that filed the suit along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Gibbons P.C. law firm, the NYPD monitored dozens of mosques, stores, restaurants, schools, and student associations in New Jersey alone.
The surveillance is not known to have led to any arrests on terrorism or related charges.