09/10/2013 01:36 pm ET

New York City Asks Court To Dismiss NYPD Muslim Surveillance Lawsuit


NEW YORK -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have responded to a lawsuit seeking to halt the department's Muslim surveillance program, admitting that the police force spied inside mosques and on a Muslim preacher but asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a Tuesday filing responding to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in June, the city of New York denied "any implication that the NYPD conducts unlawful surveillance of any institution or individual."

The city also demanded a jury trial, signaling that it believes it can convince a jury of New Yorkers that its Muslim surveillance program is constitutional and necessary. At the recent stop-and-frisk trial, the city opted for a judge to try the case. The city is named as a defendant, along with Bloomberg, Kelly and city Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen.

The ACLU lawsuit, which is being heard in Brooklyn federal district court, charges that the New York City Police Department's program has unconstitutionally chilled New York Muslims' religious speech, and requests an end to the program and that the NYPD's surveillance records destroyed. The lawsuit is one of three legal challenges to the program.

While the city's response to the ACLU lawsuit was long on denials -- the word "deny" was used 167 times -- it did provide some of the bluntest concessions yet that surveillance was conducted inside mosques.

The city confirmed that the NYPD has conducted surveillance at the Al-Ansar Mosque in south Brooklyn, at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and that it surveilled college student Asad Dandia and the preacher Mohammad Elshinawy. It also admitted to sending an undercover officer on a Brooklyn College Islamic Society paintball trip; and that it used a 19-year-old Bangladeshi-American as a confidential informant.

But the city said that it has not spied on Hamid Hassan Raza, the imam at the Al-Ansar mosque who is the lead plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit -- or at least it denied "that the NYPD has conducted 'surveillance' on Raza as the term is used by the NYPD."

The city also claimed it did not know anything about a wholesale investigation into Raza's Al-Ansar Mosque, admitting only that "the NYPD has conducted investigations of certain individuals associated with Masjid Al-Ansar, for which surveillance has been conducted at Masjid Al-Ansar."

The Associated Press reported in August that the police force has designated entire mosques as "terrorist enterprises," including al-Ansar, and has investigated them for years. NYPD agents used microphones in wristwatches and electronic key fobs to record sermons.

Kelly has steadfastly defended his department's program, including in a speech on Monday.

"The police department’s investigations are based on leads and other information about possible criminal conduct. They are never determined by a subject’s religion, ethnic background, or political opinion," Kelly said. "However, if we follow the subject of an approved investigation into a mosque, for instance, this does not put the entire congregation under suspicion."

The lawsuit is at a preliminary stage and the court has not decided whether the plaintiffs have the legal standing to bring the suit.