Handschu v. Bureau of Special Services – Government Misconduct – CCR Docket 1984-1985

CCR attorneys have intervened on behalf of a number of political organizations and individuals opposing the settlement in a federal lawsuit known as New York’s “Red Squad” case. It was begun in the early 1970s as an attempt to put an end to political spying by the New York City Police Department. The original plaintiffs included a number of political activists and the matter was certified as a class action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, covering all people who might be subjects of political surveillance by the police department.

Although the police have kept extensive files on thousands of New Yorkers, there was no discovery to determine the precise nature of the files and the extent of the spying. As the case was called for trial, the plaintiffs entered into what CCR’s clients believe to be a bad settlement.

The settlement authorizes political spying on First Amendment protected groups without a showing that such groups are involved in criminal activities. Moreover, it permits the infiltration of such groups by undercover agents as well as their manipulation through the use of practices reminiscent of the FBI COINTELPRO program.

The Center, along with Marshall Perlin of the Fund for Open Information and Accountability (FOIA), took the initiative in opposing the settlement. We received answers to a number of interrogatories related to the terms of the proposed settlement which showed that it provides few realistic protections against police spying. On June 6, 1984 the court held a hearing on the objectors’ motion to reject the proposed settlement. We are awaiting a decision which will either approve or disapprove of the settlement, or order an evidentiary hearing on the objections.

Michael Ratner, David Scribner with Marshall Perlin, Victor Rabinowitz, Michael Krinsky, Betty St. Clair, John Abt, CCR cooperating attorney Elizabeth M. Fink, Martin Popper, O. Stephen Paganuzzi