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Hispanic immigrant laborers testify about N.Y. police harassment

Associated Press Writer

WHITE PLAINS, New York- Hispanic immigrant day laborers suing a U.S. village over alleged harassment testified Tuesday that intimidation by police officers has often prevented them from obtaining work on the streets.

Four of the plaintiffs - identified only as John Does No. 4, 7, 1 and 8 - took the stand at the federal courthouse in White Plains, where the workers are seeking an injunction against harassment, selective law enforcement and discrimination. The name John Doe is usually given when the authorities are unable or unwilling to identify a person by his real name.

John Doe No. 4, a 34-year-old Guatemala native who has spent six years in Mamaroneck, New York, testified that village police Officer Matthew DiRuzza, in particular, "stares at us, from behind dark sunglasses, with one hand on his gun" to force laborers from the sidewalk where they solicit work from contractors each morning.

John Doe No. 8, who was born in El Salvador but has lived in Mamaroneck for 13 of his 42 years, said DiRuzza "screams at us, saying that he doesn't want to see us any more. ... He has told me to move on 15 or 20 different occasions. When he tells me to move, I obey him because he is a police officer, even though I have done nothing wrong."

John Doe No. 1, a 27-year-old of Guatemalan descent, testified that an unidentified patrolman detained him for more than an hour in a contractor's pickup just after he was picked up for a day's work.

All the men described seeing police using checkpoints or other means to dissuade contractors from stopping to pick up laborers. And all told how police have forced them to keep moving along the sidewalks, even when they are not blocking anyone. Several said they had never seen the police do the same for non-Hispanics.

Police Chief Edward Flynn, who is a defendant and was in the courtroom, refused to comment.

The plaintiffs' direct testimony, like that of most witnesses in the trial, was presented in written statements rather than elicited by their lawyers, and when they take the stand, cross-examination begins immediately with a Spanish translator available. Judge Colleen McMahon said that procedure would make the non-jury trial go faster.

On cross-examination, lawyers for the village, located 23 miles (37 kilometers) north of New York City, brought out that the men had never been ticketed in connection with seeking work, had earned money at their work and were still using Mamaroneck's streets to look for work.

The men were not asked their names or their immigration status. The plaintiffs have said they fear retaliation from police if they give their names. In addition, their lawyers have dropped all constitutional free speech claims because McMahon said the workers would have to reveal whether they are legal or illegal to pursue that action.

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