New York Attorney General sues city for excessive force during protests, citing dozens of Brooklyn incidents

Protest against the racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York
The NYPD watches George Floyd protests.
REUTERS/Idris Solomon

New York State Attorney General Letitia James cited several examples of police brutality during the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests in Brooklyn in a lawsuit filed on Thursday against the New York City Police Department and the city’s government.

Three alleged victims of police violence — Rayne Valentine, Luke Hana, and Andrew Smith — accompanied James at a press conference announcing the lawsuit, saying they were brutalized by the NYPD in Brooklyn during the protest movement that swept the city in June. 

Valentine, who works at Kings County Hospital in Flatbush, and over the summer helped move dead bodies onto refrigerated trucks, left work on the night of May 30 at the same time protests were taking place throughout central Brooklyn. While walking near the Church Avenue subway station, he encountered a group of NYPD officers clashing with protesters, and took out his phone to film the confrontation. 

According to Valentine, a uniformed officer told him to step back, but after he complied, the officer charged at him anyway — pushing him to the ground, at which point other officers joined in on violent altercation against the healthcare worker.

“I told the officers I was simply trying to get home, to which one of the officers threateningly replied ‘You picked the wrong time to do that,’” Valentine said during the Jan. 14 press conference. 

Hana, a downtown Brooklyn resident, said he was at Cadman Plaza on June 3, when police ordered the protesters to disperse. Hana allegedly moved to leave the plaza on his own, when he found himself surrounded by dozens of police officers — one of whom hit him in the head with a baton from behind. 

“I touched my head and my hand was covered in blood,” Hana said. “I’m one skinny guy, at that time surrounded by dozens of strong NYPD officers in body armor, there’s no way I pose any threat.”

Smith, who went with his brother to a Flatbush protest on May 30, was allegedly pepper-sprayed by an officer while his hands were in the air. The officer then pulled down Smith’s face-mask and maced him, before being caught on his body camera bragging about it to another cop. 

Those rehashed Thursday are just three among the dozens of Brooklyn incidents cited in the Attorney General’s lawsuit, which names Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Chief of Department Terence Monahan as defendants. 

Also cited in the lawsuit is a Dec. 11 incident in which NYPD officers prevented tenant advocates from complying with their orders to leave the Downtown Brooklyn offices of a real estate attorney, before blocking their exit and arresting 19 of them.  

The lawsuit charges that NYPD and City Hall leadership have failed to properly train their officers or discipline them for unlawful use of force, or stem a culture of abuse, which led to violent incidents through the course of the protests. 

“It is my hope that today’s action will push the city in the right direction, so that we may move forward in decency, transparency, and with respect to the law,” said James, who aims to have a monitor implemented to oversee the department. 

The mayor, who campaigned in 2013 as a police reformer, said he agreed with the Attorney General — who formerly served as both a Council member and public advocate — that major reforms must be implemented, but disagreed with the need for a federal monitor. 

“I met with Attorney General James yesterday and we have a common goal: Continue to drive major police reforms,” de Blasio said in a statement. “A court process and the added bureaucracy of a federal monitor will not speed up this work. There is no time to waste and we will continue to press forward.”