Loretta Lynch to advise New York attorney general in probe of NYPD clashes with protesters

New York Attorney General Letitia James will publish a report on the New York Police Department's conduct during the demonstrations in the coming weeks..
Loretta Lynch,Andrew McCabe
Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe listen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Jan. 11, 2017.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

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By Allan Smith

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will advise her office's fast-moving probe of the New York Police Department and its clashes with protesters at demonstrations sparked by the fatal arrest of George Floyd.

James announced that Lynch and Barry Friedman, a New York University professor who serves as faculty director of the NYU Law Policing Project, will join the investigation as special advisers.

"The right to peacefully protest is one of our most basic civil rights, and we are working without rest to ensure that right is protected and guarded," James said in a statement. "As we continue our investigation, I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to seek answers and accountability, and that includes calling on the sharpest minds to lend their expertise."

"There is no question that Attorney General Lynch and Professor Friedman have the experience and knowledge, and our investigation will be all the more powerful because of their support," she continued.

Late last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked James to probe NYPD conduct during the protests against racial disparities in policing and police violence inspired by Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody.

A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, despite Floyd saying he was in pain and that he could not breathe. Chauvin was fired, and is facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

Viral videos of the protests in New York City showed police aggressively handling protesters and using substantial force against people — footage the attorney general's office is reviewing. The investigation also comes amid a flood of similar videos and allegations against police departments across the country.

Cuomo said then that James would report her findings in 30 days. Since Cuomo's announcement of an official probe, the protests have continued, with additional videos gaining attention online.

On Tuesday, the Brooklyn district attorney's office charged one NYPD officer, Vincent D'Andria, with misdemeanor assault, criminal mischief, harassment and menacing over a May 29 incident caught on tape, NBC News reported. D'Andria was arrested Tuesday.

As U.S. attorney general, Lynch led prominent Justice Department investigations into police departments, including the Chicago Police Department following the death of Laquan McDonald and the Baltimore Police Department following the death of Freddie Gray. In Chicago, the Justice Department probe found that police were using "unjustified" and "excessive" force, and issued a plan for reform.

"There is no greater responsibility of government than the protection of its citizens,” Lynch said in a statement. "It is time to examine recent events to ensure that all New Yorkers receive truly equal protection under the law. I look forward to working with Attorney General James and her outstanding team on these important issues."

Friedman leads a group that works toward police reforms, particularly related to transparency, with community input.

"It’s clear New York is ready for an in-depth look at our policing polices and I appreciate the opportunity to work with Attorney General James on this investigation," Friedman said in a statement.

Last week, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a press conference that officers who acted inappropriately during the protests will face consequences, though "most [officers] have acted with extreme professionalism."

James, meanwhile, is one of 18 state attorneys general who wrote to Congress this month asking for the "explicit authority" to probe local police departments that have engaged in a pattern of abuse.