The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is facing an emergency lawsuit by The Legal Aid Society for illegally detaining 108 New Yorkers who were arrested during protests following the murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The NYPD has arrested an estimated 1,500 people since protests and demonstrations broke out last week, and on Monday night 700 people alone were arrested following looting and property damage. Many of those in custody were detained during protests on Saturday, meaning they have been in custody for  four days.

The lawsuit was filed in the State Supreme Court after the NYPD failed to follow the state’s 24 hour arrest-to-arraignment requirement, which makes it illegal for the police to hold someone under arrest for more than 24 hours before being brought in front of a judge.

The Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice attorney-in-charge Tina Luongo said the NYPD’s flagrant violation of law seemed to retaliate against New Yorkers protesting police brutality, and said under the new pretrial reforms, the majority of the charges required people be released to fight their cases later in court.

“Instead, these New Yorkers are now being held illegally, deprived of due process and needlessly subjected to increased risk of contracting COVID-19, endangering each of them as well as the entire community,” Luongo said. “We demand the release of these people at once.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the courts process has gone online and defendants appear via video feed from Central Booking. Lucian Chalfen, a courts spokesperson, told The City it was the NYPD’s slow pace of filing information for criminal complaints, not the court system, causing the delays.

The city is now on its second night of an 8:00pm curfew imposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a historic move given a curfew has not been employed since 1945. De Blasio has also ordered an increased police presence on the streets of New York. Protestors in Brooklyn continued to gather outside the Barclays Center after the curfew had passed, chanting and protesting peacefully.

Sergio De La Pava, the legal director of New York County Defender Services, said New Yorkers were exercising their constitutional right to protest endemic police brutality, and the NYPD’s illegitimate response highlighted the importance of the message.

“The time to release the protesters is now,” he said. “Going forward we demand that appearance tickets be issued where mandated by law. We stand ready to defend in court our fellow New Yorkers’ right to lawfully protest injustice.”

The Brooklyn Defender Services, which provides legal defense to more than 35,000 borough residents annually, released a joint statement with other legal service organizations saying: “As the police continue to harass and attack peaceful protesters exercising their constitutional rights, we stand ready to zealously defend them.”

“We stand in solidarity with the protestors taking to the streets, the bail funds working to get people released from jail, and everyone else who has responded to this moment by letting their leaders know that enough is enough.”

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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