A lawsuit filed by 22 Latino drivers who say they were victimized by Sgt. Scott Greene of the Suffolk County Police Department moved ahead this week with important procedural victories.
In a decision handed down by U.S. District Court, Judge Arthur D. Spatt, on Wednesday, the court decided to allow the plaintiffs to proceed anonymously with the suit because they reasonably fear retaliation by other Suffolk County police officers.
The plaintiffs believe that if their names are made known, they will be targeted. The judge wrote that “In light of this (former Sgt. Greene’s criminal) indictment and the serious allegations against other SCPD Officers in this case (still employed by the SCPD), the Court finds that the Plaintiffs’ fears of possible retaliation and further harassment by SCPD Officers to be a reasonable assumption.”
The Suffolk Police had a long history of retaliating against Latinos who criticized the department, including going to the houses of Latinos who spoke out against abuses to reporters.
The court also allowed the plaintiffs to go forward with the discovery process, giving them access to police records that could substantiate the case that the police department discriminated against Latinos.
According to the judge: “The Plaintiffs as Latinos represent a minority interest challenging an alleged government policy, and therefore, the Court finds a public interest in the vindication of their rights.”
The lawsuit was brought by LatinoJustice/PRLDEF and by a team of pro bono lawyers from the firm of Shearman & Sterling, led by partner Heather Kafele. It arose out of a multi—year scheme by Sgt. Greene to stop cars driven by Latinos and steal their money. Although Greene’s actions were reported to the police, no investigation was ordered until months later. An internal investigation found no wrongdoing by any police employees other than Greene, but witnesses say that other officers appeared to be involved in covering up Greene’s crimes.
“That these criminal practices, conducted every week in public, went on for a decade yet were never halted by the Department, reflects a fundamental failure of the Department’s ability to monitor itself, be it incompetence or knowing tolerance of racially driven crimes,” said Foster Maer, attorney for Latino Justice.