NYCLU Challenge to Subway Searches: Background on the Plaintiffs

Document Date: August 4, 2005
Affiliate: New York Civil Liberties Union

Brendan MacWade is a 32-year-old resident of Brooklyn, NY, who was working on the 40th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center when the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001. Every weekday he uses the subway to get to work in New Jersey. MacWade rides either the R train to the World Trade Center, or the M train to Broad Street, where he then walks to the PATH train to go to Jersey City. He often carries a bag with him, and on the evening of July 22 he had his bag searched by NYPD officers at the Chambers Street station of A/C/E subway lines. MacWade was offended by the search and felt that his rights had been violated.

Partha Banerjee, a resident of Brooklyn, NY, was born in India. He is a naturalized American citizen, and holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia University and a doctorate in biology from Southern Illinois University. Banerjee uses the subway to travel between his home and his office and cannot get to work without using public transportation. As a peaceful political activist, writer and media critic who is concerned about the Bush Administration’s actions in the name of war on terrorism, Banerjee often carries in his backpack lawful, written materials he believes police officers might find objectionable. He is fearful that if he is searched he might be subjected to mistreatment, including unlawful interrogation and detention because of the political materials he carries. As someone with brown skin, Banerjee is also concerned that he is more likely to be singled out by police officers for a search. In September 2003, while seeking to enter a political rally on Wall Street where he was scheduled to speak, Banerjee had his backpack unlawfully searched by NYPD police officers and was upset by that experience.

Joseph Gehring, Jr., a lifelong Republican and son of a retired police captain, is a resident of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As an attorney with offices in midtown Manhattan, he uses the subway system to travel to and from work, to visit clients, and to attend court appearances. He frequently carries with him a bag containing legal papers as well as personal effects. He is deeply offended by the prospect of having his bag searched by police officers as a condition of riding the subway system and is concerned that he may be ethically prohibited from allowing police officers to inspect the confidential client materials that he often carries. On July 26 as he was proceeding to court with a briefcase containing client files, Gehring observed police officers standing outside turnstiles at the Times Square subway station and, concerned they might attempt to search him, changed his route to avoid that possibility. Although he has spent his life comfortably around law-enforcement officials, Gehring is now extremely anxious when he sees police officers in the subway system.

Norman Murphy lives in Mahwah, New Jersey, and works in Manhattan. Murphy commutes on the Short Line/Coach USA bus line and the subway to and from his job. On his way home from work on July 22, he entered the A/C/E Chambers Street subway station. As he approached a turnstile, a police officer asked him if he could look in his bag. Murphy responded, “Absolutely not.” The police officer appeared startled and did not say anything in response. Murphy left the station and walked a few blocks to a nearby R/W station instead, taking that train uptown to 42nd Street. He objects to being searched by the police and believes the NYPD’s search policy is a serious infringement on civil liberties.

Andrew Schonebaum is a resident of Queens who commutes daily to his job using the E subway line between the Roosevelt Avenue station in Queens and stations in midtown Manhattan. On the morning of July 22, he was instructed by a police officer at the main entrance to the Roosevelt Avenue station to go to a table where the bag of another subway passenger was being searched. The police officer at the table asked him to open his bag, which contained a copy of the Sinclair Lewis book “It Can’t Happen Here,” and then asked him to open another compartment of the bag. He complied with both instructions and the officer visually inspected both compartments. Schonebaum asked for the officer’s name and she gave it to him, asking “Aren’t you happy to have your bag searched?” He replied that he was not because it was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

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