What to Know
- New York Attorney General Tish James sued the NYPD on Thursday, seeking to install a federal monitor to oversee the department following allegedly widespread civil rights abuses last summer.
- James' action will reignite the debate over how the department handled the George Floyd protests that rocked the city last year.
- Last month the city's Department of Investigation released a bombshell report on deficiencies in the police response that called for wholesale oversight and procedural change.
New York Attorney General Tish James sued the NYPD on Thursday, seeking to install a federal monitor to oversee the department following allegedly widespread civil rights abuses last summer.
James' action will reignite the debate over how the department handled the George Floyd protests that rocked the city last year. Last month the city's Department of Investigation released a bombshell report on deficiencies in the police response that called for wholesale oversight and procedural change.
In the complaint, James outlines the NYPD’s illegal and harmful conduct against New Yorkers during the recent racial justice protests and for years prior, "which has led to significant injuries and violated individuals’ basic right to peacefully protest," according to James' office.
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The lawsuit specifically charges the NYPD, the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan with failing to address the "longstanding pattern of abuse by not properly training, supervising, and disciplining officers to prevent misconduct, despite knowledge and public admission that it violated the rights of New Yorkers," according to James'.
“There is no question that the NYPD engaged in a pattern of excessive, brutal, and unlawful force against peaceful protesters,” James said. “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. 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.”
In total 155 incidents of officers using excessive force, James said in a press conference held Thursday.
According to the complaint, James contends that the NYPD officers unjustifiably deployed pepper spray and used batons, bikes, and other force against protesters, repeatedly violating their constitutional rights and violating NYPD policies regarding the use of force and the use of pepper spray.
These actions led to "significant physical harm, including broken bones, gashes requiring stitches and staples, concussions, and other harm, as well as extensive psychological harm."
During James' press conference, alleged victims of police brutality, including during the summer protests, recounted their experience.
Protester Luke Hanna, who says he was peacefully protesting on June 3, in downtown Brooklyn, the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, claimed he was assaulted by an "irresponsible officer" who acted "out of line."
"I was assaulted by an irresponsible officer because that officer was sure that he or she would get away with it," Hanna said. "My hope from this [lawsuit] is that the individual officers that acted out of line..throughout the protests are held accountable and, beyond that, a fundamental change in the way the NYPD recruits and trains its officers."
Andrew Smith, who says he also took part in the racial injustice protests with other peaceful protesters, alleges he was assaulted at the hands of a police officer while his hands were up in the air.
"I was no threat, not being aggressive or hostile, but somehow was still assaulted by the police," Smith said, adding that the officer, who he described as white, bypassed several other white protesters "only to shove me in my chest."
"It is clear to me that the foundation of the police force and our legal system was not intended to recognize and recognize the rights of Black people," Smith, who is Black, said.
Rayne Valentine said that on May 30, after finishing his shift at a Brooklyn hospital, he made his way to the subway when he witnessed a group of officers attacking one person and started recording the incident with his phone, when an officer allegedly walked up to him with a baton yelling "Get back! Get back!" Valentine says he moved back and told the officer he was, but that same officer allegedly charged at him, with additional officers joining, "and continued to beat" him as he was allegedly telling them all he wanted to do was get home.
"When the beating finally stopped, they left me on the ground with blood streaming down my face," Valentine said. "I was in great pain. I knew I needed medical attention so I went back to the hospital, where I work, and had to get seven staples to close the gash on my head."
In total, the Office of the Attorney General found that officers struck protesters with blunt instruments at least 50 times, unlawfully deployed pepper spray against protesters in at least 30 incidents, and used unreasonable force through pushing or striking protesters at least 75 times.
Officers arrested or detained hundreds of protesters, legal observers, medics, and others without legal justification, according to James. Allegedly, police also arrested curfew-exempt individuals while using kettling tactics, excessive force, and threats of force to detain peaceful protesters.
According to the attorney general, officers engaged in an unlawful practice of kettling or corralling protesters without providing them an opportunity to disperse, and thereafter making a vast number of arrests without probable cause.
"We need immediate change to decades old unjust policies and practices," James said.
The attorney general is seeking to remedy these longstanding and systemic problems at the NYPD by "installing a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics at future protests and to oversee future compliance with the law, as well as a host of other reforms to address the problematic policies and training failures that are outlined in the complaint."
Additionally, the lawsuit is seeking a court order declaration that the policies and practices that the NYPD used during these protests were unlawful.
In a statement to News 4 New York, an NYPD spokesperson said: "The New York City Police Department welcomes reform and has embraced the recent suggestions by both the city’s Department of Investigation and the city’s Law Department.
"As the Mayor has said, adding another layer does not speed up the process of continued reform, which we have embraced and led the way on."
Meanwhile, in a statement Patrick Lynch, president of the PBA said: "We will say it again: what we witnessed in June was a failure of New York City's leadership. They sent cops out to police unprecedented protests and violent riots with no plan, no strategy and no support. They should be forced to answer for the resulting chaos, instead of pointing fingers at cops on the streets and ignoring the criminals who attacked us with bricks and firebombs.”
For his part, de Blasio said the city shares the same goal as the state's attorney general and that changes have been implemented following the Department of Investigations' probe.
"I met with the attorney general [Wednesday]. We absolutely share the goal of deepening police reform and we're doing it. We're doing it as we speak," the mayor said during an unrelated press conference Thursday. "So the bottom line is we are going to keep doing that...the people have sent me here to do this work, a reform, we're doing it. We're going to deepen it. We're going to work closely with the City Council in additional packages of reforms...so I'm convinced that we are going to continue to profoundly improve the relationship between police and community, and move the city forward."