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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Record settlement approved for NYC protesters brutalized by police

New York City will pay out millions of dollars to settle a federal class action over so-called "kettling" tactics used by law enforcement to trap civil rights protesters.

MANHATTAN  (CN) — A federal judge signed off Friday on New York City’s highest per-person settlement in a mass arrest class action, awarding $21,500 each to at least 200 protesters who say the police brutalized them during a 2020 demonstration in the Bronx over the murder of George Floyd.

The New York City Police Department was criticized for surrounding protesters and forcing their arrests in a neighborhood called Mott Haven on June 4, 2020, using a technique known as “kettling,” essentially corralling them and giving them no choice but to break a curfew that the city had implemented to stifle fiery public unrest in the wake of Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police department.

Members of the class who were given tickets to appear in court are eligible for $21,500 each plus an extra $2,500, meaning total payout from the lawsuit could cost New York taxpayers up to $10 million or more.

The 25-page stipulation approved by Senior U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon resolves just one of six related NYPD lawsuits consolidated before the Clinton appointee. New York Attorney General Letitia James brought another of the cases, which alleges that the NYPD violated the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments in its handling of protests and demonstrations across the city beginning on May 28, 2020, three days after Floyd’s death.

Friday's settlement resolves a class action filed in December 2020 by attorneys Joshua S. Moskovitz, Lance A. Clarke and Michael L. Spiegel.

During a discovery conference in February 2021, Judge McMahon promised that the parties of the half-dozen consolidated cases were “going to be on a rocket docket moving toward a trial."

Brooklyn-based civil rights attorney Gideon Oliver, who represents protesters in one of the pending putative class action suits — Sow, et al. v. City of New York, et al. — invoked McMahon’s rhyming metaphor in response to the announcement of the judge’s approval of the settlement.

“Despite the City’s boilerplate denials of fault, the hard-fought and historic settlement goes to show how violent and abusive the NYPD’s June 4, 2020 attack on the Mott Haven was,” he told Courthouse News on Friday afternoon. “Those of us on the remaining consolidated actions will continue litigating on the rocket docket the Court has set, seeking both compensation for the many others abused by the NYPD during the summer 2020 protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, as well as substantial changes to NYPD protest policing moving forward.”

Human Rights Watch released a report in October 2020 citing evidence that police planned an aggressive crackdown on the Mott Haven protesters. Police used bicycles to form a wall around protesters while officers, including some in riot gear, attacked demonstrators — beating them with batons, kicking and punching them, and spraying them with pepper spray, according to the report from the civil rights organization.

At least 61 people were hurt, with injuries including a broken nose, lost tooth, sprained shoulder, broken finger, split lip, black eyes and bruises.

The New York City Department of Investigation issued a scathing report in December 2020, concluding that standardized, agencywide, in-service training related to policing protests was lacking. 

In 115 pages, the report details “a number of key errors or omissions that likely escalated tensions, and certainly contributed to both the perception and the reality that the Department was suppressing rather than facilitating lawful First Amendment assembly and expression.” 

Attorney General James brought her civil complaint a month later in the Southern District of New York.

In 2014, the city spent $18 million to settle lawsuits related to protests during the 2004 Republican National Convention. 

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government

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