On Thursday, Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the NYPD and its leadership to end the department’s practice of using excessive force and making false arrests during peaceful protests.

The suit comes after NYPD made hundreds of arrests of peaceful protestors and were alleged of using excessive force during last summer’s peaceful racial justice protests.

Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

In the complaint, James lays out dozens of examples of the NYPD’s “blatant use of excessive force,” since May 2020, including the indiscriminate, unjustified, and repeated use of batons, pepper spray, bicycles, and a crowd-control tactic known as “kettling” against peaceful protesters. The suit says those tactics all caused protesters significant physical harm.

In one example, Luke Hanna, who was participating in a protest at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn on June 3, was struck in the back of the head with a baton while complying with a police directive to disperse. Hanna was left with a severe gash requiring ten staples in his head. Neither the officer who hit Hanna nor any other officer nearby sought medical attention for Hanna’s wound, and Hanna was not arrested or charged with any crime.

James also charges NYPD officers with unlawfully arresting legal observers, medics and other workers performing essential services without probable cause and in direct violation of executive orders from Mayor de Blasio.

James outlines in the suit how the NYPD’s “illegal and harmful conduct” existed for years before the protests in 2020, and has led to significant injuries and violated individuals’ basic right to peacefully protest. With it, James is seeking systemic reforms at NYPD and the implementation of an external monitor to oversee changes.

“There is no question that the NYPD engaged in a pattern of excessive, brutal, and unlawful force against peaceful protesters,” James said.

“Over the past few months, the NYPD has repeatedly and blatantly violated the rights of New Yorkers, inflicting significant physical and psychological harm and leading to great distrust in law enforcement.”

She said no one was above the law, not even those charged with enforcing it, and the suit would end the longstanding pattern of brutal and illegal force.

In her investigation, James received more than 1,300 complaints and pieces of evidence from those who suffered or witnessed excessive force by the NYPD. James also held a three-day public hearing with testimony from more than 100 protesters, community-based organizations, elected officials and NYPD Commissioner Shea.

The lawsuit specifically charges the NYPD, the City of New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan with failing to address the longstanding pattern of abuse by not properly training, supervising and disciplining officers to prevent misconduct.

This is despite knowledge and public admission that those actions violated the rights of New Yorkers.

The lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief, including systemic reforms to the NYPD and the implementation of a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s policing tactics in future protests and to ensure compliance with the law.

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