Judge condemns tradition of parading suspects for photographers
NEW YORK–In late February, a federal District Court in New York City held that the widespread police custom known as the “perp walk” violated the constitutional rights of a burglary suspect who was paraded by the New York City Police Department before a television station’s camera.
Judge Allen G. Schwartz found that the “perp walk” violated the privacy of John Lauro Jr., a doorman who had been walked before television cameras in September 1995 after he was accused of burglarizing an apartment he was watching for a tenant. Lauro was handcuffed, walked by a detective outside to an unmarked car, driven around the block, and walked back into the precinct.
According to Schwartz, Lauro suffered humiliation and damage to his personal dignity by being required to participate in a perp walk. Schwartz held that the parading of Lauro violated the Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures and did not further the legitimate purpose of police officers “whose legal obligation is not to provide titillating entertainment to the public but rather to enforce the laws of the state in meaningful and prudent manner.”
Schwartz wrote, “Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what possible law enforecement purpose could be served by taking an individual out of police custody, driving him around the block and bringing him back into the police precinct.”
Schwartz did not directly address whether “Fox 5 News” or the Fox Broadcasting Company, which broadcast the walk, also could be held liable for a constitutional violation. However, Schwartz cited a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in San Francisco (9th Cir.) which held that a television station could be liable for participating in an alleged Fourth Amendment violation by videotaping a jointly-planned search of individual’s property. Schwartz wrote that because Fox 5 News appears to have encouraged and participated in Lauro’s walk, it is possible that a claim against the news station could be supported.
In September 1995, Lauro was caught on a security videotape opening drawers and doors to closets in the apartment that he was asked to watch by a tenant. Nothing was missing when the tenant returned. The tenant sold “Fox 5 News” an exclusive license to broadcast the videotape for $200 and filed a criminal complaint with the police. The police then arrested Lauro and agreed to a request by the Fox station to walk him before their camera.
According to The New York Times, as a result of Schwartz’s ruling, police officials stated that they would halt all future perp walks and would no longer routinely advise news media about a particular suspect’s availability for photographing at a precinct station house. The city is currently considering whether to appeal the decision. (Lauro v. New York City)