Mayor Bill de Blasio and his embattled law enforcement agency face another lawsuit over the NYPD’s treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters – with a potentially “astronomical” price tag for the city’s taxpayers.
The new class action lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, accuses the NYPD of violating New Yorkers ‘rights by “demoralizing and brutal demonstrations of violence, rather than making real efforts to facilitate protesters’ protected First Amendment activity.”
It comes just a week after New York attorney general Tish James filed her own lawsuit accusing the NYPD of excessive violence against protesters gathered in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
While James’ lawsuit seeks to make changes to departmental policy – possibly under the guidance of another federal monitor – the latest lawsuit also seeks monetary damages for those brutalized and arrested during demonstrations.
“We think the community should have a say in everything that happens,” said Jonathan Moore, whose firm is leading the lawsuit. “We have found in legal disputes in the past that voices … are not heard when part of the government is speaking to another part.”
Moore previously led the class action lawsuit that arose out of the NYPD’s crackdown on protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention, a decade-long legal battle that ultimately cost the city more than $ 35 million.
“None of this will translate into any new training protocol or new regulations for the police to follow,” Moore said, leaving lawyers no choice but to “come back every 15, 20 years and say, ‘You’re doing it again'”
This “class”, pending certification by a judge, would include anyone arrested or brutalized in protest by the NYPD since May 28 – a group that Moore said “includes more than a few thousand people.”
Among the 10 plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit is Savitri Durkee, a 48-year-old performing artist and activist. She was one of the hundreds of protesters captured, hit by batons and sprayed with pepper spray by NYPD officials as they marched through Mott Haven on June 4th.
Policemen stormed out from behind with batons. Met several people. Someone is bleeding from the head. I jumped over a car and got out because of a press office. This wasn’t even a confrontation but a trap pic.twitter.com/CgBkHfSwlR
– Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) June 5, 2020
According to the lawsuit, an officer grabbed Ms. Durkee from behind with tape over his ID number and threw her to the ground and onto other women who had been pushed into the street by officers, as he said in sum and substance, ‘Shut up.’ “
“The officer grabbed Ms. Durkee’s hair, pulled her head back and tore off her mask,” the suit continues. “The officer then put his knee or baton in her back and forced them onto the other women.
The woman eventually received a subpoena for violating the curfew, which was later denied by prosecutors.
After months of defending his police department, including its actions in Mott Haven, Mayor de Blasio posted a video last month apologizing for the NYPD’s handling of protests and promising future reforms. But both lawyers and activists said they had little confidence in the mayor’s promise to change departments seven years after his tenure.
“Why do we spend all this money arresting people and firing them the next day, except trying to stop people from engaging in First Amendment activities?” Said Moore.
In a statement, a Legal Department spokesman, who also released a report last month criticizing the department’s protest police, defended the NYPD’s actions.
“A deadly pandemic and the murder of George Floyd created a storm of challenges for our city,” said a lawyer spokesman, and is committed to stepping up these efforts. “
Inquiries to the NYPD were not returned.