Michael R. Sisak, Associated Press, January 14, 2021
New York’s attorney general sued the New York Police Department on Thursday, 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 utilized in response to these largely peaceful protests,” James said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
James, a Democrat, was tasked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with investigating whether NYPD officers used excessive force to quell unrest and enforce Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nightly curfew. She 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 criticized 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 officers aggressive cracked down on protesters on June 4 in the Bronx.
The head of the city’s largest police union blamed a “failure of New York City’s leadership” for sending officers “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,” Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said.
James’ lawsuit is the second major legal action to stem from the NYPD’s handling of the protests.