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NYPD sued over 'brutal response' to George Floyd protesters

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Aid Society are seeking damages for 11 people whose civil rights they claim were "violated" by the NYPD.
Protests Against Police Brutality Over Death Of George Floyd Continue In NYC
An NYPD officer wrestles a protester to the ground during a march denouncing systemic racism in law enforcement on June 4, 2020 in New York City.Scott Heins / Getty Images file

Charlie Monlouis-Anderle was engaged in what they said was a peaceful protest in Brooklyn the evening of June 3 when New York City police officers in full riot gear surrounded the demonstration on all sides and allegedly began beating protesters with batons.

Monlouis-Anderle, who uses they/them pronouns, couldn’t recall ever hearing police warn protesters to disperse, but alleges that at least three officers tackled them and beat them so badly their body went limb. Monlouis-Anderle say they were zip tied, initially denied medical attention for a broken right arm and repeatedly misgendered by officers.

Monlouis-Anderle’s story is like that of 11 others detailed in a lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday in which two civil rights groups accuse the New York City Police Department, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermont Shea of violating the civil rights of protesters in their response to demonstrations this past summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

When reached for comment, NYPD spokesperson Detective Denise Moroney said, "We will review the lawsuit if and when we are served."

The mayor's office pointed to remarks de Blasio made at a news conference Monday, at which he declined to address the specifics of the lawsuit.

“Clearly, what we want and what we believe in is a better and more peaceful relationship between the NYPD and the community,” de Blasio said. “I’m not going to speak to the details of the lawsuit, but I think the underlying concept just isn’t fair.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Aid Society allege that protesters who took to the streets in May and June in support of police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement “were met with the very pattern of police violence they marched to end,” and that NYPD leadership and the mayor “condoned and even promoted” the violence.

The violence, according to the lawsuit, usually began when NYPD officers allegedly descended without warning on protesters with batons and chemical pepper spray. Protesters were tackled, beaten and pinned to the ground, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit claims protesters were arrested and kept in excessively tight plastic handcuffs, or “zip ties,” which caused pain, bruising and — in some cases — long-term injury. Protesters were also kept in police custody without adequate food or water and in unsanitary conditions where coronavirus safety regulations were not heeded, the suit alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges police used tactics such as flying helicopters low over protesters, hiding badge numbers with black bands to keep protesters from identifying them and surrounding protesters on all sides so as to block escape, commonly referred to as “kettling.”

NYPD leadership “deliberately” neglected to curtail these aggressive tactics in light of complaints and instead authorized the excessive force, the suit alleges.

“The world was rightly shocked when the NYPD met demonstrators against police harassment and violence with the very abuse the took to the streets to protest,” said Corey Stoughton, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society criminal defense practice's special litigation unit. “Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Shea encouraged and allowed this violent response ... misconduct primarily affecting Black and Brown New Yorkers."

The organizations, on behalf of the 11 plaintiffs, are seeking monetary damages and have called on the city to train officers how to respond to demonstrations without violating the rights of protesters and to hold accountable officers who use excessive force.

“I am bringing this lawsuit because it is one way among many that we can demand justice and ensure the safety of future protesters,” Monlouis-Anderle said. “I want the cop who brutalized me, the NYPD and our appointed officials to be held accountable for the terror they caused me and my community."

In June, the mayor faced criticism of his handling of citywide protests over Floyd's death on May 25 while in Minneapolis police custody. After videos appeared to show police using what many considered to be excessive force against protesters, de Blasio downplayed NYPD treatment of protesters to reporters and said he personally saw “no use of force around peaceful protests.”

That same month, New York Attorney General Letitia James released a 57-page report in response to over 1,300 complaints about excessive police force used against protesters, proposing a series of police reforms and an investigation.

Her report contained many of the same issues brought forth in the lawsuit Monday, including the use of tight zip ties on protesters, holding protesters for hours after arrest and the use of "kettling" to contain protesters.

"When tens of thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets peacefully to protest police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the NYPD unleashed an indiscriminate and brutal wave of violence to punish protestors for demonstrating against police violence,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"The City’s response to the righteous wave of #BlackLivesMatter protests is a stain on the city that can’t be allowed to go unchecked," Lieberman said. "Especially as New Yorkers prepare for the possibility of a new wave of protest after the election."