Letitia James’ office filed a lawsuit Thursday against the NYPD for its actions during months of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, which she says ‘blatantly violated the rights of New Yorkers, inflicting significant physical and psychological harm and leading to great distrust in law enforcement.


J. Murphy

Officers make an arrest after protesters occupied the FDR Drive on Saturday, May 30.

A man was punched so hard, one of his molars was knocked out. Another woman was struck over the head with a baton, sending streaks of blood down her face. A New York State Senator was pepper sprayed in the eyes.

These are just a few of the incidents cited in a lawsuit announced Thursday by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing the NYPD for police officers’ actions during the series of Black Lives Matter protests which took place across the city last year.

Between May and December of 2020, as New Yorkers and those across the country held ongoing demonstrations in response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, James says the NYPD used excessive force and committed other misconduct against protestors in dozens of incidents. Many of these incidents were caught on video and widely shared.

They include police officers striking protestors with batons, ramming them with bicycles and deploying pepper spray “unjustifiably,” according to the suit. The NYPD also engaged in “kettling” — in which officers encircle a crowd, essentially trapping people in place — in several incidents, including one which left hundreds of people “wrongly detained” for hours on the Manhattan Bridge, and another clash in Mott Haven in which officers “unlawfully arrested” more than 250 demonstrators after blocking people from leaving, the complaint states.

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The AG’s office says its investigation has amassed “more than 1,300 complaints and pieces of evidence” against the NYPD related to the protests. The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, seeks “broad injunctive relief” in the form of NYPD reform, and James is calling for the installation of a monitor to specifically oversee the police department’s response to protests.

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

The city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When asked about the lawsuit at a press briefing Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio pointed to prior reports that examined the NYPD’s protest response — one conducted by the city’s Corporation Counsel and another by the Department of Investigation — and said the NYPD is already implementing recommendations from those.

“We’re doing it as we speak,” the mayor said. “We are doing it, we’re going to deepen it, we’re going to work closely with the City Council on additional packages of reforms.”

You can read the attorney general’s complaint in full below.

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