New York pays millions to protesters forcibly detained by police

New York City has agreed to pay $21,500 to each of hundreds of protesters who were arrested by police in the Bronx during the 2020 racial justice protests and then charged or beaten with batons, according to a legal settlement.

If a judge approves the settlement filed in federal court late Tuesday, the amount would be one of the highest ever awarded per person in a mass arrest class action and could cost the city between $4 million and $6 million.

The case involved about 300 people who were arrested on June 4, 2020 in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx during protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers the week before. His death sparked protests across the country, including in New York, where thousands of people demonstrated in May and June.

On June 4, police jailed hundreds of protesters who had peacefully gathered on 136th Street and then prevented them from leaving, a practice known as “kettling,” according to the lawsuit.

They were held in tight plastic handcuffs, also known as zip ties, by officers who were unmasked as the pandemic raged. Officers with batons beat protesters and hit them with pepper spray, according to the complaint.

Samira Sierra, 31, one of the protesters who has sued the city and lives in the Bronx, said she was “hurt” by police during the demonstrations.

“We had every right to protest, but the City of New York made it clear that day that the people of the Bronx are free to be terrorized at will,” she said in a statement.

The Kettle strategy was widely defended at the time by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea, who said it was necessary because protesters flouted curfews and looters had looted parts of Manhattan, although the demonstrations had been largely peaceful.

According to the lawsuit, protesters arrested in the Bronx were surrounded by police officers ahead of an 8 p.m. curfew and prevented from leaving.

City leaders endorsed the tactic to “quell the protests with well-coordinated operations that imprison and violently arrest protesters,” the lawsuit says. “Many protesters were injured and bleeding back. Some protesters fainted or lost consciousness and developed convulsions.”

The cases of those arrested were eventually dismissed, said Rob Rickner, one of the protesters’ lawyers, who said the Kettle strategy was part of a “pre-planned show of force”.

In a statement, police said that two and a half years after the protests, many of the Department’s policies and training have been revised. These revisions were made based on internal reviews and recommendations from three external agencies investigating police actions during the period.

“The NYPD remains committed to continually improving its practices in every way possible,” the statement said.

The 2020 protests were “a challenging moment for the department as officials, themselves suffering the strains of a global pandemic, did their utmost to facilitate people’s right to peaceful expression while also cracking down on acts of lawlessness, including large-scale riots, mass chaos, violence and destruction,” the statement said.

Lawyers for the protesters described the settlement as “historic”. They said that prior to this agreement, the highest amount per person was paid in mass arrests in 2010, when a federal judge awarded $18,000 each to protesters involved in a mass arrest during a protest in 2000 near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings in Washington, DC, in a $13.7 million settlement were arrested.

The final amount New York City will have to pay in the Bronx case is not clear.

Lawyers said about 330 people were entitled to payments, but up to 90 of them have already settled with the city in separate complaints.

Other protesters may have decided to file separate lawsuits against the city, particularly those who reported more serious injuries in their clashes with police, Mr Rickner said.

The agreement was filed weeks after the city released data showing it had paid out $121 million to settle police misconduct cases last year. That amount, the highest in five years, was mostly awarded to people whose criminal convictions were overturned years after their trial, but also included settlements from lawsuits filed following Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

The city and the protesters’ attorneys agreed to settle the Bronx case in December, but asked the court to submit the motion detailing the settlement in February to give both sides time to finalize it.

The class action lawsuit was filed by five of the protesters – Ms Sierra and her sister Amali Sierra, Ricardo Nigaglioni, Alex Gutierrez and Charles Wood, all in their 30s.

The shocking scenes of looting, scuffles between police and protesters, and the destruction of police cars led the then-governor. Andrew Cuomo and Mr. DeBlasio announce on June 1st that they would deploy twice as many police officers and impose a curfew.

“Eventually enough is enough,” said Mr. de Blasio.

But videos and photos provided by protesters and reporters showed police officers cornering and attacking peacefully demonstrating protesters.

Over a period of several days, New York Times journalists covering the protests observed how post-curfew officers repeatedly lashed out at protesters with seemingly little provocation, pushing them onto sidewalks, beating them with batons and using other crude tactics.

Mr DeBlasio, who was booed during a memorial service for Mr Floyd, later vowed to investigate reports of inappropriate behavior by police officers. New York pays millions to protesters forcibly detained by police

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