NEW YORK (AP) — New York City has agreed to pay several million dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by protesters who say they were assaulted, abused and trapped by police using a technique known as “kettling” at a demonstration in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
In court papers late Tuesday, the city said it will pay $21,500 to each of at least 200 protesters who were detained, arrested or met with force by police during a June 4, 2020, protest in the Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood.
The city said it will also pay $21,500 per plaintiff for legal costs and an extra $2,500 to protesters who were given court appearance tickets, meaning the bill from the class-action lawsuit could be close to $10 million or more.
A judge must still approve the settlement. Plaintiffs’ lawyers said they believe it would be the city’s highest per-person settlement in a mass arrest class-action lawsuit and heralded it as a “historic agreement.”
It’s one of several lawsuits alleging NYPD officers mistreated protesters who took to the streets nightly after the police killing of Floyd in Minnesota on May 25, 2020. Similar protests happened in cities and towns across the U.S.
In the Mott Haven protest, the NYPD was criticized for kettling protesters, essentially trapping them and giving them no choice but to break a curfew that the city had implemented to quell unrest.
“The violence unleashed upon us that night was intentional, unwarranted, and will be with me for the rest of my life,” plaintiff Henry Wood said in a statement released through lawyers. “What the NYPD did, aided by the political powers of New York City, was an extreme abuse of power.”
One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Joshua Moskovitz, said the NYPD’s actions in Mott Haven were reminiscent of “ Bloody Sunday,” in which civil rights protesters were beaten by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965.
“We hope this settlement marks an inflection point for policing in New York City,” Moskovitz said.
In a statement, the NYPD said the protests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic were a “challenging moment” for officers and the department and that it has since reformed how it responds to protests.
“Much of the NYPD’s policies and training for policing large-scale demonstrations have been re-envisioned based on the findings of the department’s own, self-initiated analyses and on the recommendations from three outside agencies who carefully investigated that period,” the department said. “The NYPD remains committed to continually improving its practices in every way possible.”
The civil rights organization 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, the report said.
At least 61 people were hurt, with injuries including a broken nose, lost tooth, sprained shoulder, broken finger, split lip, black eyes and bruises.