US judge rejects NYC police settlement over Muslim surveillance
Judge giving a verdict (Shutterstock)

A federal judge has rejected a settlement of lawsuits charging that the New York City police department illegally targeted Muslims for surveillance, saying the deal did not go far enough and provide sufficient protections.

U.S. District Judge Charles Haight in Manhattan in a ruling made public on Monday rejected a deal announced in January in which the New York Police Department would install a civilian representative to help monitor its counterterrorism efforts.

Haight said the civilian representative's proposed powers "do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights for Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in the City."

He cited an inspector general's report as indicating the department has a "systemic inclination" to disregard court-approved regulations, called the Handschu guidelines, that limit how it can monitor political and religious activity.

Haight suggested a series of alterations, including clarifying the authority of the civilian representative to ensure the NYPD's compliance with the Handschu guidelines and requiring that the representative report periodically to the court.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement the ruling highlighted safeguards they sought but that the department declined to accept.

"This development is an opportunity to put the strongest safeguards in place, and we are eager to discuss the court’s suggestions with the NYPD and the city," the group said.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the department pursued an aggressive surveillance program that sent undercover officers into Muslim neighborhoods, organizations and mosques.

The tactics, which became widely known after a series of reports by the Associated Press, were criticized by civil rights advocates as unconstitutional.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned in part on reining in police excesses, ended the program soon after taking office in 2014.

The proposed settlement required modifications to the Handschu guidelines, which were loosened after the Sept. 11 attacks, and called for at least a five-year term for the civilian representative.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)