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New York AG Letitia James sues NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio over 'brutal, excessive' handling of BLM protests

The 62-year-old has filed a lawsuit that names besides top police officials like Dermot Shea and Terence Monahan and the NYC mayor among others
New York AG Letitia James and NYPD officers (Getty Images)
New York AG Letitia James and NYPD officers (Getty Images)

New York Attorney General Letitia James is known to be a crusader. The 62-year-old, who is the first Black American and woman to hold the post, has filed more than 35 lawsuits against the Donald Trump administration in 2020 alone and has led investigations into President Trump’s business interests. And now, it has been reported that James is suing the New York Police Department (NYPD) over its allegedly ‘excessive, brutal and unlawful’ handling of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests last year.
The lawsuit, which has been filed in the Southern District of New York on Thursday, January 14, has named NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and also New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. It has accused the police department and the named individuals of failing to address the pattern the NYPD used while dealing with the protests that broke out in May and June last year following the brutal murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. The lawsuit came following months of investigation into the NYPD’s actions during protests against racial injustice in NYC in the wake of Floyd’s death. 

NYPD officers look on as demonstrators denouncing systemic racism and the police killings of African Americans take to the streets in the borough of Manhattan in New York City on June 6, 2020. (Getty Images)

'Pattern of unlawful practices that NYPD utilized'

In a press conference, James said: “We found a pattern of deeply concerning and unlawful practices that the NYPD utilized in response to these largely peaceful protests.” She added that the “pattern of abuse” happened because of inadequate training, supervision and discipline. “As the demonstrations continued, the very thing being protested — aggressive actions of law enforcement — was on full public display.”

The Democrat also said that there was no question that the NYPD engaged in “a pattern of excessive, brutal, and unlawful force against peaceful protesters”. 
“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,” the NY AG added. 

James, as part of the filing, has also requested the NYPD to install a federal monitor to look after their policing tactics. The lawsuit alleged that between May 28 and December 11 last year, officers of various ranks ‘repeatedly and without justification used batons, fist strikes, pepper spray, and other physical force’ against the protesters. James said the officers also resorted to using bicycles and ‘kettling’ or ‘containment’ crowd-control tactic causing significant harm besides arresting several legal observers, medics and others who were carrying out essential services without a probable cause. 

James said her office got more than 1,300 complaints since May and gathered over 300 written statements alleging police abuse. “Protesters — many of whom were never charged with any crime and were merely exercising their First Amendment rights — suffered concussions, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and other physical injuries,” the lawsuit states, according to Daily Mail.

James also said in the filing that the allegations against the officers are not new and the policing practices that have been pointed out are the “latest manifestation” of the department’s “unconstitutional policing practices”. “For at least the last two decades, the NYPD has engaged in the same unlawful excessive force and false arrest practices while policing large-scale protests. This misconduct is widely documented in prior lawsuits, complaints, and reports,” she said in her filing. 

“Even though these practices were well-known before the 2020 Racial Justice Protests began, Defendants failed to train officers in policing protests to correct and prevent this misconduct—a failure that Defendants have now openly admitted following the release of public reports by the City’s Department of Investigation and Corporation Counsel about NYPD’s conduct during the Protests,” she added. 

Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, also backed the lawsuit to blame the city leaders. He said in a statement that what was witnessed in June was a failure of the NYC 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,” Lynch added. 

NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio (Getty Images)

De Blasio agrees about pressing reforms

De Blasio said in a statement to CNN that he met James on Wednesday, January 13 and that the two share a common goal and that is to achieve “major police reforms”. “I couldn't agree more that there are pressing reforms that must -- and will -- be made this year,” the NYC mayor said. He added that those include major discipline reforms and recommendations from a report of the city Department of Investigation.

The NYPD, which recently took pride over the fact that crime low in the Big Apple hit a historic low in 2020 even though incidents of shooting went up, said in a statement: “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.”



The NYPD found the working environment last year extremely challenging with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the state of New York hard and the BLM protests which saw a major slash in its budget and disbanding of its plainclothes unit.