NYPD commissioner testifies on protester clashes: ‘Our trust has taken a hit’

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Dermot Shea

FILE – NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea is pictured. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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NEW YORK — NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea testified at an online public hearing Monday in response to over 100 complaints filed by protesters and officials describing violent clashes with police during demonstrations in New York City following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

New York Attorney General Letitia James questioned Shea as part of her ongoing independent review of police-protester interactions.

After delivering prepared remarks describing looting, acts of vandalism and riots that injured nearly 400 police officers, more than 100 of whom have not yet returned to active duty, Shea said it was clear in the very early days that these demonstrations were different than any the city has seen in years.

“The main difference was that these were violent,” he said. “And the violence was directed toward the law enforcement personnel that was present.

From May 28 through at least June 4, protesters at multiple demonstrations used bricks, trash cans, glass bottles, knives, molotov cocktails and more to deliberately target and attack police officers, Shea said.

“Department vehicles were set ablaze and police precincts were attacked,” he said. “Windows can be replaced, buildings can be repaired, inventories restocked though with great consternation. The physical and psychological toll of the violence carried out by individuals and groups that exploited an otherwise peaceful and important movement in the struggle against racial injustice has been severely damaging.”

The commissioner lauded restraint by police in dealing with protesters several times throughout his testimony, but he also acknowledged several incidents involving officers that required further investigation and disciplinary action.

However, Shea asserted that some of the videos that went viral during the most intense days of the police-protester clashes don’t show the entire situation that led to those officers’ actions.

The police commissioner defended, as he has in the past, the officers who were captured on video driving an NYPD vehicle into a crowd of protesters.

He also said the officer who was seen on video brandishing his gun at protesters will not face disciplinary action.

“There was a long period of time where everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at officers,” Shea said of the incident. “A lieutenant was cowardly attacked with a brick smashed down on his head.”

When James suggested that the videos of police acting inappropriately toward protesters has broken the public’s trust in the department, Shea agreed, though he said individuals and city officials have privately told him they support the department.

“Our trust has taken a hit, absolutely … I think we have to regain some of the trust,” Shea said. “No one will come out to support the police right now out of fear.”

Watch Part 2 of the hearing below.

Watch Part 1 of the hearing below.

This was the third day of public testimony in the investigation. Last week, dozens of protesters and officials offered personal accounts alleging excessive force by police.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked James on May 30 to launch an investigation after what started out as peaceful protests over Floyd’s police custody death became increasingly violent.

The clashes resulted in over 2,000 arrests, an untold amount of property damage and hundreds of injuries on both sides.

A curfew was imposed in an attempt to stem the violence and stop looters from destroying businesses, but protesters continued to march in defiance.

Many critics accused Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD of using the curfew as an excuse to arrest otherwise peaceful protesters.

Shea told the attorney general he was present for the decision by Cuomo and de Blasio to enforce a curfew but he did not offer an opinion during the meeting.

“This was after several days of looting,” the commissioner said, adding that prior to the decision he had publicly said he did not think a curfew was needed.

Dounya Zayer testified last week, describing the evening when an officer “shoved me with as much force as he could.”

Monday, Shea explained the officer’s actions were not an appropriate use of force.

James has spent the last three weeks collecting video and photo evidence as well as written and spoken testimony from people involved in the interactions.

The attorney general is expected to release a report after she completes the 30-day review.

Ayana Harry contributed.

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