New York: New York’s attorney general has sued the New York Police Department (NYPD), calling the rough treatment of protesters against racial injustice last spring part of a longstanding pattern of abuse that stemmed from inadequate training, supervision and discipline. Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit includes dozens of examples of alleged misconduct during the spring demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s police killing, including the use of pepper spray and batons on protesters, trapping demonstrators with a technique called ‘kettling’ and arresting medics and legal observers.
“We found a pattern of deeply concerning and unlawful practices that the NYPD utilised in response to these largely peaceful protests,” James said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit Thursday.
James, a Democrat, was tasked by Governor Andrew Cuomo with investigating whether NYPD officers used excessive force to quell unrest and enforce Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nightly curfew. The attorney general issued a preliminary report in July that cited a ‘clear breakdown of trust between police and the public’.
James is seeking reforms including the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics at future protests and a court order declaring that the policies and practices the department used during the protests were unlawful.
The lawsuit in federal court named the city, De Blasio, police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Chief of Department Terence Monahan as defendants. James criticised De Blasio for saying the use of ‘kettling’ was justified and Shea for saying that the NYPD ‘had a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly’ when aggressive officers cracked down on protesters June 4 in the Bronx.
In June, at the height of the protests, De Blasio was accused of misleading the city when he told reporters that he personally saw ‘no use of force around peaceful protests’, even after officers had been caught on video moving on demonstrators without provocation and bashing them with batons.
De Blasio said he met James Wednesday and that they share the goal of pushing for major police reforms, such as implementing recommendations in previous reports on the NYPD’s protest response. De Blasio, also a Democrat, said however that he did not agree a lawsuit was the solution.
“A court process and the added bureaucracy of a federal monitor will not speed up this work,” De Blasio said. “There is no time to waste and we will continue to press forward.”
John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter-terrorism, said the department is committed to reform but that James’ lawsuit ‘doesn’t seem to meet the standard for a federal monitor, and it doesn’t seem to illustrate a pattern and practice’ as required.