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Groups sue de Blasio and NYPD, citing use of excessive force during NYC protests

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and New York City

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at the Police Athletic League in Manhattan on Feb. 4. Credit: Corey Sipkin

The New York Civil Liberties Union and The Legal Aid Society said they joined forces Monday and filed a federal lawsuit against Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and other police officials, accusing them of excessive force in the city’s handling of the summer protests after the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

"The mayor and the city instituted a de facto policy allowing individual officers to violently target protesters by repeatedly approving forceful deployments and refusing discipline or repercussions for blatant officer misconduct," the organizations said in a joint statement.

City representatives didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.

"We will review the lawsuit if and when we are served," said Sgt. Mary Frances O'Donnell, DCPI spokesperson.

The complaint filed in Manhattan federal district court alleged that officers used indiscriminate force against the 11 plaintiffs in the case.

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The plaintiffs, who are named, allege that they suffered from violence and harm at the hands of officers, including being beaten by batons, pepper sprayed, shoved to the ground and experienced kettling, the practice of blocking protesters' access to avenues of escape, according to the statement.

The suit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, stems from weeks of protests that began around May 28 and lasted well into June. While for the most part peaceful, the protests at times turned violent as some protesters assaulted officers with bottles and other hard objects, set fire to numerous police vehicles and at one point tried to swarm into a Brooklyn precinct building. Looting followed some of the protests, particularly in Manhattan, where stores trying to recover from the coronavirus pandemic lockdown were burned out or ransacked.

Soon after the protests, Shea noted that more than 400 officers suffered injuries and that at least 100 protesters reported injuries. Close to a dozen officers faced disciplinary charges, he said.

Police actions during the protests have been the subject since early June of an investigation by state Attorney General Letitia James. While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo expected a report from James in 30 days, her final report on the protests has yet to be released.

James did release a preliminary report in which she outlined some facts and figures about the protests and various arrests without drawing any conclusions. She did say it appeared that the public had lost confidence in the police and suggested some reforms. An NYPD spokesman labeled the preliminary document a political statement.

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