Myrie, Richardson sue NYPD for civil rights violations at Floyd protests

Protest against the death of African-American man George Floyd, in New York
Police officers detained Crown Heights State Senator Zellnor Myrie during the May 29 “I can’t breathe” vigil and rally in Brooklyn.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Diana Richardson are suing the NYPD in federal court, alleging that the Department violated their civil rights during last year’s protests against police brutality in Brooklyn.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Brooklyn on Monday, claims that Myrie and Richardson were subject to excessive force at protests in May of last year at the hands of the NYPD, including being kettled and pepper sprayed. Myrie was also subject to an unlawful arrest, the suit claims.

“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 filing reads.

The suit, first reported by the New York Times, names the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Chief of Department Rodney Harrison as defendants; Harrison is being sued in his official capacity in place of Terence Monahan, who was chief during the protests but has since retired.

The suit also names several rank-and-file officers from the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, namely Captain Joseph Taylor, Sergeant Giovanni Calderon, and Officers Jessica Clinton, Solomon Jacobs, and Jorge Perez, as well as one unidentified officer referred to as John Doe.

Myrie and Richardson, both of whom represent Central Brooklyn in Albany, are being represented by the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP.

The protest in question took place at the Barclays Center on May 29, 2020, four days after the murder of George Floyd, and near the beginning of the mass protests that engulfed the city in the following days. While Myrie and Richardson both wanted to make their voices heard at the protest to call for police accountability and racial justice, they also believed that their presence as elected officials “would promote peace and respect between the police and protestors.”

Myrie and Richardson noted that they reached out to NYPD leadership prior to heading to the protest, and both wore clothing identifying themselves and their position.

After officers played a prerecorded message ordering the crowd they were in to disperse, without giving a reason why, Myrie and Richardson say they began moving away from Barclays, complying with officers’ orders. Nevertheless, the officers began to kettle the crowd, and cops eventually rammed the pols with bikes in an act the suit alleges as assault.

As this happened, Richardson was rushed by Officers Clinton and Perez, and was pepper sprayed in the eyes by Perez without warning. She was pushed to the ground, “blinded” and “in excruciating pain.” She was not offered medical attention and no officer intervened on her behalf as she was being assaulted, the suit alleges.

Demonstrators marched through Brooklyn last summer.File photo by Ben Verde

Myrie, meanwhile, was maced in the eyes by the unidentified officer as he “was being hit by police officers with bicycles and questioning their unjustified use of force.” He was “blinded and terrified,” and felt “unbearable pain.” Myrie was then handcuffed with zip ties by Taylor and Calderon, and was then taken towards buses that were being used to haul away arrested protesters. No officer intervened on Myrie’s behalf, the suit alleges, nor did any officer intervene to provide Myrie with medical attention.

Myrie was only released, he says, after an officer recognized him as an elected official.

Much of the incident was captured in photographs and on video.

Myrie received a voicemail from the mayor later that day apologizing for the NYPD’s conduct, the suit says. Hizzoner also attempted to reach Richardson in the following days.

Both Myrie and Richardson say they experienced short-and-long-term physical and mental health issues in the wake of the incident. Richardson has had medical problems with her right eye since the incident, and both have suffered from depression and anxiety, especially as it relates to large crowds and events with a large police presence.

The officers’ conduct violated the NYPD’s Use of Force guidelines and the lawmakers’ constitutional rights, they say. The suit seeks for a judge to declare the tactics, which the lawmakers say are organized and systematic rather than haphazard and isolated, to be unconstitutional.

Asked for comment, the NYPD’s press office referred Brooklyn Paper to the City Law Department, which defends the city in lawsuits. “The NYPD 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,” said Law Department spokesperson Nick Paolucci in a statement. “We will review these claims.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The NYPD faced widespread criticism of its tactics during the Floyd protests last year, and the Mayor and Police Commissioner have pledged to make reforms to the Department’s policing of protests. The Department is also facing a lawsuit by Attorney General Letitia James calling for a court-appointed monitor to oversee the Department’s tactics related to protests, along with hundreds of suits from protesters.