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Clarkstown Settles Profiling Lawsuit For $300K

Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan.
Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan Facebook

CLARKSTOWN, N.Y. -- A $300,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit Monday between a local black community group and the Town of Clarkstown has received mixed reactions from several different fronts.

The suit filed by We the People claimed their members were profiled by a Clarkstown special police unit for putting on the play -- "A Clean Shoot" -- in 2015 about a police officer being shot.

The settlement between the group and Travelers insurance company was made without the town's support, said Town Attorney Lino Sciarretta.

"The town's insurer evaluated, negotiated and resolved this matter without the Town's input," Sciarretta said. "The Town was prepared to have this matter litigated."

The settlement provides 15 members of We The People with $20,000 each, said attorney William Wagstaff, who represents the group.

The agreement will need to be approved by Judge Nelson Roman, but Wagstaff said he doesn't see any issues preventing it from being approved.

"The settlement sends a message to Clarkstown they can't violate the rights of their citizens without repercussions," Wagstaff said. "Too often abuses of power by the 'blue wall' are swept under the rug."

Under the settlement, the town does not concede to any admission of guilt or liability.

Wagstaff said he takes the settlement "as a win," and sends a message that the public has a right to exercise their constitutional rights, including the freedom to assemble.

Suspended Clarkstown Police Chief Mike Sullivan said in an interview last year with Daily Voice that investigators looked into the matter when the word "Shoot" came up during a routine computer search by the Strategic Intelligence Unit (SIU).

"There is no political espionage going on in SIU, and they are not gathering information about residents," said Sullivan last year. "The unit is a part of 21st Century policing practices used to help keep the public safe."

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe in a statement last year that the unit is in the business of passive surveillance, which means officers within the unit gather information by monitoring publicly available "social media," including Facebook and Twitter, in addition to others, through the use of key words and phrases that alert the unit about activities in the county that might be of interest to local law enforcement agencies, Zugibe said.

But We the People didn't buy the explanation and hired Wagstaff to handle the law suit.

Wagstaff said the group will donate $12,500 to the Martin Luther King Jr. center which offers programs for children and residents. In addition, he will donate $7,500 of his fee as well.

The work of the SIU came to light as part of the legal action by Clarkstown's legal action against Sullivan.

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