New York City has agreed to pay at least $21,500 to each person who says they were boxed, pepper-sprayed and arrested by police in the Bronx during social justice protests in the summer of 2020.
The proposed settlement with potentially more than 300 protesters would cost the city millions of dollars, marking one of the highest payouts per person in a mass arrest class action settlement in US history, according to attorneys who filed. the demand.
A judge must approve the proposal, filed Tuesday night in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The settlement is significant not only because of the size of the payment, but also because it is given to those whose First Amendment rights were violated, said Rachel Moran, founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic at the University of California School of Education. St. Thomas. Law in Minneapolis.
“It’s a large number of people who weren’t brutally injured, but who were protesting peacefully, and the police just illegally shut down those protests,” Moran said.
According to the lawsuit, about 320 protesters had gathered on the evening of June 4, 2020, in Mott Haven, a low-income neighborhood of mostly black and brown residents, as racial justice protests swept the country after of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis. police.
As protesters peacefully marched through the neighborhood, police surrounded and trapped the crowd by forming walls to block off both ends of a street. a tactic known as “ketting”. According to the lawsuit, the crowd was locked up before the 8:00 p.m. curfew, which had been imposed several days earlier.
The lawsuit alleges that minutes after the curfew began, police began attacking the crowd with batons, shields and pepper spray before arresting 312 people. The Bronx district attorney’s office dismissed the charges against all.
Protesters were handcuffed with zip ties that often cut off their circulation and detained for hours, according to the lawsuit.
A day after the mass arrests in Mott Haven, then-Police Commissioner Dermot Shea praised the operation, saying it “run almost without a hitch,” according to the lawsuit. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio also defended kettling, with both leaders saying the tactic was necessary to prevent the robberies and chaos that was taking place in some Manhattan neighborhoods.
Among the protesters gathered at Mott Haven was Henry Wood, one of the five plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.
“The violence unleashed on us that night was intentional, unjustified, and will be with me for the rest of my life. What the NYPD did, with the help of the political powers of New York City, what an extreme abuse of power.” Wood said in a statement. “While I’m relieved that we were able to secure monetary restitution for those of us brutalized by the NYPD that night, nothing will change what happened to us and so many others who suffered under the boot of the police in America. “.
In a statement, the New York Police Department said it had “revised” much of its policies and training for policing mass demonstrations after an internal review and investigations by three outside agencies, adding that it “remains committed to continually improving their practices”. in every possible way.”
The 2020 demonstrations came during a “challenging time for the department, as officers suffering under the stresses of a global pandemic did everything possible to help facilitate people’s rights to peaceful expression, while also addressing acts of lawlessness, including large-scale riots, mass chaos. , violence and destruction,” the NYPD said.
The proposed agreement was presented on the eve of a New York City Council oversight hearing about the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a crowd control unit whose officers were involved in multiple confrontations during the 2020 protests. The Police Department did not appear for the hearing.
Under the terms of the proposal, Mott Haven protesters who have not reached an individual agreement with the city and submit a claim form should receive payment before the end of the year. Some are eligible for an additional $2,500, the law firm said. The lawyers expect a judge to grant preliminary approval to the deal in the coming days before final approval in October.
“We are very confident that the court will approve the settlement because it properly recognizes the harm these protesters face,” said attorney Ali Frick.
The lawsuit in New York is one of several cases across the country, including in Seattle, denver, Colon, OH; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and other cities where racial justice protests during the summer of 2020 turned into clashes between police and crowds. Although the demonstrations were largely peaceful, leaders often pointed to incidents of rioting, robbery, and vandalism to defend law enforcement increasingly using violence against protesters.
A federal case is underway in Los Angeles, where a man and his legal team have gone to great lengths to prove allegations that he was wrongfully shot in the face with a hard foam projectile by an LAPD police officer at a 2020 protest.
According to data provided to The Times, Los Angeles Police Department investigators have rejected all but 2% of the misconduct allegations out of the hundreds filed against officers during and after the protests.
Half a dozen civil lawsuits against Los Angeles officers have been settled before trial, costing taxpayers nearly $1.7 million to date, but always without admission of guilt or wrongdoing. A class action lawsuit brought by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and others remains pending, focusing more on the culpability of the city and the LAPD than individual officers.
Times Staff Writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.