New York Police Department officers engaged in a “pattern of excessive, brutal and unlawful force” against demonstrators during Black Lives Matter protests throughout 2020, according to a lawsuit filed by the state’s attorney general against the agency, its top brass and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
A 69-page filing from state Attorney General Letitia James outlines the “pervasive use of excessive force and false arrests” over eight months, including “repeatedly and without justification” using a variety of weapons against protesters – “many of whom were never charged with any crime” – resulting in severe injuries and violations of their First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit calls for a federal monitor to oversee the department.
“Over the past few months, the NYPD has repeatedly and blatantly violated the rights of New Yorkers, inflicting significant physical and psychological harm and leading to great distrust in law enforcement,” the attorney general said in a statement. “With today’s lawsuit, this longstanding pattern of brutal and illegal force ends. No one is above the law – not even the individuals charged with enforcing it.”
The lawsuit alleges that the city of New York, the mayor and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and Chief of Department Terence Monahan “failed to prevent and address the pattern or practice of excessive force and false arrests by officers against peaceful protesters” in violation of First, Fourth and 14th Amendemtn rights.
It alleges that officers rounded up legal observers, medics and others, including through the use of “kettling”, a crowd-control tactic to corral demonstrators and “impede constitutionally protected assemblies to conduct mass arrests”. In one example, the attorney general points to a protest on 4 June in which 249 people were arrested after officers “kettled” them into an intersection.
The attorney general’s office also found that officers “struck protesters with blunt instruments” at least 50 times, unlawfully used pepper spray in at least 30 incidents, and struck or pushed protesters using “unreasonable force” at least 75 times. Those incidents resulted in “broken bones, gashes requiring stitches and staples, concussions, and other harm, as well as extensive psychological harm,” the office said in a statement.
Nightly demonstrations took place in New York and across the US followed the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky in 2020, with protests demanding immediate police reform and justice for the deaths of the Black men and women killed by law enforcement. But dozens of accounts and widely shared footage on social media captured a violent police response.
In July, Attorney General James called on the city to appoint an independent monitor to review police misconduct and disciplinary measures. Through the lawsuit announced on Thursday, the office seeks injunctive relief for a federally appointed monitor to investigate and implement reforms.
The NYPD already has a federally appointed monitor to oversee the department’s stop, question and frisk policy following a 2013 ruling that officers repeatedly targeted and violated the constitutional rights of Black and Hispanic New Yorkers through a policy ostensibly designed to get illegal guns off the street.