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Officer says he taunted boy during stop-and-frisk encounter

NEW YORK — A police officer testified Wednesday that he taunted a potential suspect — who turned out to be an innocent 13-year-old — after he detained the boy under the New York Police Department’s disputed program of stopping, questioning, and frisking people on city streets.

Called as a witness in a civil rights case in federal court in Manhattan, Officer Brian Dennis conceded that he had told a handcuffed Devin Almonor to stop ‘‘crying like a little girl.’’

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Asked on cross-examination if he thought the comment was appropriate, Dennis responded, ‘‘Looking back, no.’’

The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the lawsuit on behalf of four black plaintiffs who claim they were stopped by police because of their race. The center alleges that many of the 5 million stops in the past decade, mostly of black and Hispanic men, were made without cause.

Police officials say stop and frisk is a legal tool that has helped drive crime down to record lows. New York City saw the fewest number of murders in 2012 since comparable record keeping in the 1960s, and other major crimes are down to record lows, too.

US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is hearing the case, has said in earlier rulings that she is deeply concerned about the tactic. She has the power to order reforms to how it is used, which could bring major changes to the force and other departments.

In the second week of the trial, the plaintiffs’ lawyers pressed Dennis and another officer, Jonathan Korabel, to explain why they stopped Almonor as he walked alone on a Harlem street in 2010. Dennis testified that while responding to 911 calls about a disorderly crowd in the area, he spotted the teen reach for his waistband as if he had a gun.

‘‘I’m a kid. I’m going home. Leave me alone,’’ Dennis recalled the boy saying.

Dennis testified that he assumed Almonor was much older because he was tall for his age and out on the street without supervision at 10 p.m.

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