Protesters to receive $21,500 each as part of NYPD settlement

The City of New York has agreed to pay at least $21,500 to each individual who claims they were cornered, pepper sprayed and arrested by police in the Bronx during summer 2020 social justice protests.

The proposed settlement, with potentially more than 300 demonstrators, would cost the city millions of dollars, one of the highest payouts per person in a collective mass arrest settlement in U.S. history, according to the lawyers who filed the lawsuit.

A judge is due to approve the motion, filed late Tuesday night with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The settlement is significant not only because of the size of the payment, but also because it is awarded to those whose First Amendment rights have been violated, said Rachel Moran, founder of the Clinic for Delinquent and Juvenile Advocacy at St. Louis University. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.

“This is a large number of people who were not severely injured, but who protested peacefully, and the police just illegally closed these protests,” Moran said.

About 320 demonstrators gathered on the night of June 4, 2020 in Mott Haven, a low-income neighborhood with mostly black and brown residents, as racial justice protests swept the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis, according to the lawsuit. police.

As the protesters marched peacefully through the area, the police surrounded and lured the crowd into a trap by erecting walls to block off both ends of the street. a tactic known as “ketting”. According to the lawsuit, the crowd was locked in until the city’s 8:00 pm curfew, which was put in place a few days earlier.

The lawsuit alleged that minutes after the curfew began, police began attacking the crowd using batons, shields and pepper spray before arresting 312 people. Charges against all were dropped by the Bronx District Attorney’s office.

The lawsuit alleges that the demonstrators were handcuffed with zip ties, which often blocked their movement, and detained for several hours.

The day after the Mott Haven mass arrests, then Police Commissioner Dermot Shea praised the operation and said that, according to the lawsuit, it “was carried out almost flawlessly”. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio also defended ketting, with both leaders saying the tactic was necessary to fend off burglaries and the chaos going on in parts of Manhattan.

Among the demonstrators detained in Mott Haven was Henry Wood, one of the five plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.

“The violence that befell us that night was deliberate, unwarranted and will stay with me for the rest of my life. What the NYPD did with the assistance of the New York political authorities was an extreme abuse of power.” Wood said in a statement. “While I’m glad we were able to secure some monetary restitution for those of us who were mistreated by the NYPD that night, nothing will change what happened to us and many others who are suffering under the yoke of the police in America. “.

The New York City Police Department said in a statement that it has “rethought” much of its policy and training on policing during mass demonstrations following an internal review and investigations by three external agencies, adding that it “remains committed to continuous improvement.” of his practice.” in every possible way.”

The 2020 demonstrations came at a “challenging moment for the department as officers, themselves suffering from the effects of a global pandemic, did their best to promote people’s rights to peaceful expression while cracking down on acts of lawlessness, including large-scale riots, mass chaos. , violence and destruction,” the NYPD said.

The proposed settlement agreement was filed ahead of New York City Council oversight hearing about the NYPD Strategic Response Team, a riot control unit whose officers were involved in numerous clashes during the 2020 protests. The police department did not show up for the hearing.

Under the terms of the offer, protesters in Mott Haven who did not independently negotiate with the city and submit a claim form must receive payment before the end of the year. Some are eligible for an additional $2,500, the law firm said. Lawyers expect the judge to give pre-approval of the settlement in the coming days before final approval in October.

“We are very confident that the court will approve the settlement because it adequately acknowledges the harm that the protesters are suffering,” lawyer Ali Frick said.

The New York lawsuit is one of a number of cases around the country, including in Seattle, Denver, Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and other cities where racial justice protests escalated into clashes between police and mobs in the summer of 2020. While the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, leaders often pointed to incidents of rioting, looting and vandalism to protect law enforcement, who increasingly used violence against protesters.

There’s a federal case in Los Angeles in which a man and his team of lawyers went to great lengths to prove claims that an LAPD officer unfairly shot him in the face with a foam shell during a 2020 protest.

Los Angeles Police Department investigators have dismissed all but 2% of the hundreds of misconduct allegations made against officers during and after the protests, according to data provided to The Times.

Half a dozen civil lawsuits against the Los Angeles officers were settled before trial. are costing taxpayers nearly $1.7 million to date. — but always without admitting guilt or wrongdoing. A class action initiated by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and others remains under review and focuses more on the culpability of the city and the LAPD than individual officers.

Times Staff Writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.