Attorney to Pursue Racial Profiling Case, Despite High Court Ruling
An attorney says a group of young African American men will pursue their legal battle accusing the police and State University of New York at Oneonta officials of racial profiling.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the 1993 case, which would have given the justices an opportunity to speak broadly on the issues of individual rights, race and police power.
While the high court’s rejection was disappointing to him, Scott Fein, an Albany attorney who represented the African American plaintiffs, said his clients still had claims pending on other issues in both the state and federal courts and would continue to pursue the case.
“I started this case when I was 40. I’m 51 now. They won’t let me into the assisted living center until I’m 65. I figure I have 14 years of litigation left in me to ensure that justice is done,” Fein says.
The Supreme Court did not take up the group’s claims that police violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches or stops, Fein said. The group can continue to pursue its claim based on equal legal protection in the New York state court system.
“We still believe New York courts will construe the equal protection provisions under the state constitution more broadly than the (federal) courts. We are likely to be afforded more protection there,” Fein says.
Fein says he is not surprised that the nation’s high court avoided the issue of racial profiling at a time when much of the public supported the idea of giving police broader authority in tracking crime suspects in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
David Merzig, Oneonta city attorney, says the city agreed with the decision that he says “affirmed the rights of police to fully investigate appropriate suspects when pursuing the perpetrators of a crime.”
SUNY-Oneonta spokeswoman Carol Blazina says the school would not comment because the case is still in litigation in the lower courts.
The case stemmed from a September 1992 incident in which a 77-year-old woman said she was attacked in her home by a knife-wielding Black man. The woman told police her attacker suffered cuts on his arms. Police questioned nearly 100 Black male students, and examined their hands for cuts. They also stopped or examined about 200 Black town residents who were not students. No one was ever arrested. SUNY-Oneonta officials also turned over a list of minority students to state police investigating the case to help identify possible suspects.
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the state police and university officials all apologized for the searches. A group of students, townspeople and others sued in federal court in 1993, claiming local police, state police, the city, state and college violated their constitutional rights. A federal judge dismissed the claim in 1995. The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in part last year, ruling that the searches did not violate the Constitution’s “equal protection” guarantee.
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