Real estate broker Yahnick Martin was smoking a cigar on a Prospect Heights corner when police stopped to ask if he had marijuana. He said he didn’t, and he even blew out smoke to show the officers. But Officer Roman Goris proceeded to frisk him anyway, according to findings of the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Goris found nothing more than a lighter and Martin’s wallet, and he started to walk away. But Martin, a black man in a city where police made more stops of young black men than their total population, wasn’t having it. He told Goris he had no right to stop and frisk him, and asked for his badge number.
For that, and for making a joke about the hundred dollars he had in his pocket, he was issued two disorderly conduct summonses, arrested, and taken to the precinct. One of the officers told Martin, “You want to be a smart ass and make accusations, you go to jail.” Officer Gorris is now one of the first officers who will be prosecuted for a wrongful stop-and-frisk under reform that empowers the City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board to prosecute administrative trials and dispense discipline.
The details of Goris’ story came out as the result of the investigation by CCRB, his testimony as part of the trial earlier this month, and a separate federal lawsuit he filed. And while is story his not the most egregious or offensive, it paints a picture of the many ways officers abused the stop-and-frisk program. Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, officers are empowered to stop individuals if they have reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime, and to frisk them for weapons if they believe they are armed. The rationale for the stop-and-frisk program, in fact, is to curb gun violence. But the officers in this case approached Martin because they smelled marijuana, and seemingly searched him on suspicion — completely unsubstantiated at that point — that Martin had marijuana. This is not a legal basis for a frisk, and Martin was right to question it.
For that, and apparently for his “sarcasm,” he was taken to jail. But the arrest wasn’t the only consequence of the alleged wrongful stop-and-frisk. Martin had been standing outside his running car, chock full of Christmas presents, waiting to drop off a present to a friend. Police left his car that way when they arrested him, and when Martin asked about it, one officer allegedly responded, “That’s too bad, you should have thought of that before being a smart ass.” Martin’s car was stolen.
There’s yet another element to this stop: Marijuana possession is decriminalized in New York City, except when it is in public view. So even if police found marijuana in Martin’s pockets, that would not have been a basis for arrest, except under the perverse tactic reportedly used by some officers in which they remove it from a person during a frisk, and then reason that it is in public view.
CCRB is now working on more than 60 cases involving stop-and-frisk, according to DNAinfo, many already scheduled for trial in the coming months.