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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Two men busted on unconstitutional loitering law file a class-action suit


Two men busted on a loitering law declared unconstitutional 25 years ago have filed a federal class-action suit accusing the city and NYPD of false arrest. If the suit is certified as a class-action case, it will cover others illegally arrested - meaning it could cost the city a bundle.
A Daily News computer review found that 2,513 people have been arrested under the law since it was thrown out in 1983.

The suit is related to a pending class-action case accusing the NYPD of arresting thousands of people under an anti-panhandling law that was ruled unconstitutional in 1992. In 2006, the city agreed to pay former beggar Eddie Wise $100,000 to drop his complaint. That suit remains active as dozens more panhandlers came forward with similar claims.

In the new suit, Paul Casale, a midtown ad agency coordinator, and Anthony Garcia, a married Brooklyn dad, were busted at the Port Authority last March and strip-searched, their lawyers said. "This action seeks to end - finally, for all time - this pattern and practice of unconstitutional conduct by police officers in the NYPD," the suit says.

Casale, 50, who lives on the upper West Side, was walking with Garcia, 33, who is on public assistance, when they were approached by cops on a sidewalk outside the bus depot, the lawyers said Tuesday. Casale, who had never before been arrested, had run into Garcia, a friend, who had just put a woman friend on a bus, the lawyers said. Lawyer Katie Rosenfeld said it was unclear why they were arrested but the cops did so under a law voided in 1988.
"They were walking when they were arrested, they were doing nothing wrong," Rosenfeld said.

The men were taken into custody under a law that made a person guilty of loitering if they were unable to give a "satisfactory explanation" as to why they were in a transportation facility. "You can't arrest someone for not having a sufficient explanation - but they do," said Matthew Brinckerhoff, another lawyer on the case. "It's even crazier when [the statute is] long dead." City Law Department officials said they had not seen the suit and could not comment. The men are suing even though the charges were eventually dropped.

The suit also challenges the enforcement of a second subsection of the penal code, one that made it illegal to solicit "deviant" sex in a public place. The Daily News found that cops have logged more than 2,600 arrests statewide since the law was thrown out - nearly all of them in the city.

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