Two New York lawmakers who said they were surrounded, beaten with bicycles and pepper-sprayed by the police during a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn last year filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city on Monday, adding to the blizzard of litigation over the Police Department’s conduct during the protests.
The suit from State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson accuses the police of violating their free-speech rights, assaulting them and illegally detaining Mr. Myrie. It names Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea and six individual officers as defendants.
“The experience was a painful and humiliating reminder that following the rules and complying with police orders does not protect Black Americans from police brutality, not even Black Americans who have ascended to elected office,” the suit states. Both lawmakers are Black, though the suit does not accuse the police of singling them out because of their race.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of one filed by the state attorney general in January demanding a court-appointed monitor to oversee the policing of future protests, a class-action suit filed on behalf of protesters and preliminary court papers filed by more than 400 individual protesters. The city faces the possibility of millions of dollars in payouts.
The lawmakers’ suit asks a judge to declare tactics that they say the police used against them to be unlawful, including using bicycles to batter protesters and surrounding protesters so they cannot disperse and then pushing in from all sides to arrest them — a technique known as kettling. The suit by the state attorney general, Letitia James, had made similar requests. The lawmakers’ suit also seeks unspecified damages.
“The N.Y.P.D. has a longstanding track record of successfully protecting the right of the public to protest while ensuring public safety, and is committed to strengthening those efforts,” the city Law Department said Monday in response to the lawsuit. “We will review these claims.”
The police in New York have faced widespread criticism for responding to protests against police brutality with violence last May and June, during the nationwide demonstrations that followed the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. There were more than 2,000 arrests in New York; video after video shows officers, including white-shirted commanders, punching, beating and shoving protesters, often without apparent provocation.
Though the city Department of Investigation concluded that many officers violated protesters’ civil rights and Mr. de Blasio personally apologized for the police’s conduct, only a handful of officers have faced significant discipline. The police have said that more than 400 officers were injured during the protests, including 260 who were hospitalized, and that protesters caused more than $800,000 in damage to police vehicles.
Mr. Myrie and Ms. Richardson, who both represent parts of Brooklyn, took part in a protest outside Barclays Center on May 29, the first evening of widespread demonstrations in Brooklyn.
Mr. Myrie had reached out to the commanding officer of the district that includes Barclays Center, Chief Jeffrey B. Maddrey, to let him know that he would be attending, and Chief Maddrey responded that he would be there and available if Mr. Myrie needed anything, the suit says.
To make himself easily identifiable, Mr. Myrie wore a neon green shirt with “Senator Myrie” on the back in block letters, the suit says.
Just before 8 p.m., the police announced that they were shutting the protest down. The suit says that officers kettled the crowd, then without warning lifted and slammed their department-issued bicycles into protesters, including the lawmakers, hitting Ms. Richardson in the abdomen and pelvis and Mr. Myrie in the back and legs.
When Mr. Myrie asked why the officers were hitting him and other protesters who were trying to follow the officers’ instructions, “the officers did not respond verbally,” the suit says. “Instead, they continued to ram him with the bicycles.”
Officers then pepper-sprayed both lawmakers directly in their faces, and as Mr. Myrie was screaming in pain, officers handcuffed him with zip ties, the suit says. Mr. Myrie was released after an officer recognized him, the suit adds.
Ms. Richardson said by phone on Sunday that she was suing in part to vindicate the rights of protesters who did not have the resources she has at her disposal.
“We are representing the voices of many people whose voices have been lost, who don’t have this privilege and this platform, who weren’t pulled off to the side like Senator Myrie,” she said.
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