Suits Over New York Police Handling of 2020 Racial Protests to Proceed

A federal judge rejected a request by New York City to dismiss lawsuits claiming police violated the constitutional rights of people protesting racial injustice after the death of George Floyd last year.

U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan on Friday ruled that plaintiffs in six consolidated suits, including one brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, had properly alleged that police engaged in widespread use of excessive force and mass arrests.

The ruling affirms the strength of the legal claims but doesn’t address the merits of the dispute, which could ultimately be resolved at trial.

James sued the city and Mayor Bill de Blasio in January over the alleged conduct, claiming state investigators had established “an egregious abuse of police power” overseen by leadership that was “unable or unwilling to stop it.” The treatment of Black Lives Matter protests was just the latest example, the AG said.

McMahon rejected the city’s argument that the lawsuits are irrelevant because the New York Police Department is weighing policy changes following an internal review. The judge said the changes are “not yet in effect.”

“Plaintiffs identify a number of police practices that were allegedly wrongfully used or abused during the BLM protests and pleads facts from which it could be inferred that this was not some ‘one off’ instance of misuse of these practices, but had been part and parcel of the NYPD’s ‘arsenal’ for dealing with political protests for that past two decades,” McMahon said.

McMahon did toss out claims against de Blasio and others in their official capacity, though claims against the term-limited Democrat in his personal capacity remain. The judge also backed the mayor’s right to issue a curfew that’s at the heart of some of the lawsuits.

“In issuing and enforcing the curfew order during the pandemic, the goal was public safety,” Brachah Goykadosh, a senior counsel in the NYC Law Department, said in an emailed statement. “The New York City Police Department remains committed to continuing to refine its policing to ensure public safety, as well as the protection of every citizen’s constitutional rights.”

The judge voiced some criticism of the lawsuits, saying in her ruling that they failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the looting and vandalism that was associated with the largely peaceful protests.

“The Attorney General, as befits her office, does admit that there were instances of property damage and injuries to NYPD officers, although the complaint minimizes the seriousness of this misbehavior,” the judge said.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment.