Members of a local community group in Rockland County, New York, have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Clarkstown Police Department for illegal surveillance and racial profiling.
After We the People member Mel Hancock directed a 2015 play called “A Clean Shoot?” the Clarkstown Police department began performing background checks for criminal activity on Hancock and 13 other members of the group.
The department’s Strategic Intelligence Unit also investigated whether members had had prior contact with the police. The play, which was written by a law enforcement officer, focused on a white officer’s mental trauma after mistakenly shooting a Black undercover cop.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe told NBC New York that the SIU was triggered by the word “shoot” and the unit began reviewing members allegedly in an attempt to protect them from “potential threats.” Zugibe insisted that the SIU handled Black Lives Matter activists the same way.
These allegations were confirmed by an SIU internal report obtained in September by NBC New York, which is responsible for bringing the case to light.
Former Police Chief Michael Sullivan and Zugibe told the outlet that they monitored public social media accounts to retrieve information on the members, but both insisted their methods were well within the realm of the law.
William O. Wagstaff III, attorney for We the People, disagrees. “That’s a lie,” says Wagstaff, who filed the lawsuit on his clients’ behalf. “It’s there in black and white.”
“They’ve proven they are incapable of policing themselves,” he says. “They’ve proven they cannot be trusted.”
The district attorney was not named in the lawsuit and attorneys for the City of Clarkstown and the police department have not commented as of this report.