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D.C. to drop controversial checkpoints

Major vindication for the Constitutional rights of D.C. residents

Reprinted from The Washington Post

The D.C. government has agreed not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court ruling that checkpoints set up by District police in neighborhoods beset by violence are unconstitutional.

The decision is part of a settlement filed in federal court in the District. It ends the use of a controversial crime-fighting tactic police had argued was needed to protect citizens during spates of violence.

But some residents and activists said the roadblocks used to screen those entering the troubled neighborhoods infringed upon the Constitutional rights of those who drove through them.

As part of the settlement, filed Aug. 26, officials agreed to end the checkpoint initiative, known as the Neighborhood Safety Zone Program. Three plaintiffs who were stopped at a checkpoint in the summer of 2008 were each awarded $3,500.

“This is a major vindication for the Constitutional rights of the residents of the District of Columbia,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, an attorney for the Partnership for Civil Justice,” which sued the District on behalf of four residents.

The roadblocks were used for 14 days in the summer of 2008 to screen those entering the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington after a series of shootings. They have not been used since.

In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the checkpoints unconstitutional.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said the city used the checkpoints only under the most dire circumstances when people were “shooting the place up” and that the police have not needed to employ them since.

“I decided it was best to put the litigation to an end,” Nickles said. “There are other ways we can deal with a similar phenomena if it arises.”

Verheyden-Hilliard said the District’s decision to not challenge the ruling will discourage police departments nationwide from implementing similar programs.