This article first appeared in The Enchantment, an editorially impartial venture of The Justice Collaborative which produces unique journalism on how coverage, politics, and the authorized system impression America’s most weak individuals.
This summer time in New York Metropolis was outlined by protests. The homicide of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer drew tons of of hundreds into the streets in late Might and early June, demonstrations that had been fueled by violent confrontations with the NYPD in Union Sq. and downtown Brooklyn.
On Might 29, Officer Vincent D’Andraia was filmed throwing Dounya Zayer to the bottom and calling her a “silly fucking bitch.” Zayer suffered a concussion from the incident and in addition mentioned she later had seizures. Brooklyn District Lawyer Eric Gonzalez charged D’Andraia with third-degree assault, fourth-degree legal mischief, second-degree harassment and third-degree menacing. New York Lawyer Normal Letitia James apologized to Zayer. After the preliminary post-George Floyd interval and a interval of looting of shops in Manhattan and the Bronx, the NYPD adopted a extra hands-off stance towards the demonstrations, which have occurred practically day by day.
That silent detente abruptly resulted in mid-September. On Sept. 16, in response to a whistleblower claim that Latinx girls in ICE custody had been involuntarily receiving hysterectomies, day by day demonstrations started exterior a federal constructing in Decrease Manhattan. Over the course of that week, 134 individuals had been arrested throughout ICE protests, culminating within the kettling of 86 individuals in Occasions Sq. on Sept. 19 by officers from the Strategic Response Group, the NYPD’s controversial anti-terrorism and protest tactical unit created by former Commissioner Invoice Bratton in 2015. “The violence within the enforcement we’ve seen is way more severe than something we’ve seen in a very long time,” Christopher Dunn, the authorized director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, advised The Enchantment. He pointed to the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riot over gentrification and the policing of homelessness because the final comparable occasion of widespread NYPD brutality. However the Tompkins Sq. clashes spanned two days — not a number of months.
Gideon Oliver, a civil rights lawyer who has sued New York Metropolis over illegal mass arrests through the 2004 Republican Nationwide Conference and Occupy Wall Avenue in 2011, mentioned the NYPD’s actions in mid-September are a return to older, extra confrontational ways that embody sweeping up giant numbers of protesters on questionable authorized grounds.
“There was clearly an incredible and aggressive response to the Floyd protests and the uprisings at first, after which I believe there was a shift in ways till the ICE-related protests within the final week and alter,” Oliver mentioned on Sept. 23. For months prior, giant avenue marches went just about unchallenged by police. “You possibly can observe on the road that there’s been a shift in the way in which that police deal with the protesters,” he mentioned.
The NYPD didn’t reply to quite a few requests for remark from The Enchantment.
The NYPD’s shift in posture towards avenue protests and the main position of its Strategic Response Group in latest mass arrests, comes as the town’s two largest police unions have formally endorsed President Trump. As Trump encourages militias and counterprotesters, and defends the actions of deadly assaults on Black Lives Matter demonstrations, some worry that the NYPD’s politicization, return to outdated ways, and new department-wide public disorder training being administered on a precinct stage portend for a chaotic autumn. The tactical shift is especially conspicuous after police seemed the opposite approach at right-wing counterprotesters who drove cars by mass BLM protests and precipitated accidents.
Energy Malu, a Decrease East Facet activist who was arrested in Occasions Sq. on Sept. 19, mentioned the SRG is a well-recognized presence at demonstrations, and the unit has focused particular organizers and teams. “They know who we’re, and we all know who they’re,” he mentioned, including that the velocity and overwhelming present of pressure of the Occasions Sq. arrests shocked organizers.
Commanded by Inspector John D’Adamo, the SRG consists of greater than 700 officers and divided into 5 borough-based groups plus the Dysfunction Management Unit (DCU). The unit, which predates the SRG, is thought for bringing “hats and bats” (golf equipment and lengthy batons) to protests and fascinating in violent mass arrests of questionable legality. It was central to policing the 2003 anti-war demonstrations and the 2004 Republican Nationwide Conference — the place over 1,800 individuals had been arrested and held for days with out costs, leading to a $18 million legal settlement—and Occupy Wall Avenue. The DCU’s ways included utilizing military-style coaching to interrupt up crowds by a “disperse and demoralize” strategy, utilizing undercover officers to spread misinformation amongst crowds, arresting demonstrators early to “set a tone,” and arresting “potential rioters” earlier than they dedicated crimes.
Along with protests, the SRG can be used to observe giant parades and public gatherings, and for crime suppression patrols. From its inception, activists had been alarmed on the NYPD’s conflation of counterterrorism and protest policing. “Terrorism and protest is what they’re educated to police,” Wylie Stecklow, a civil rights lawyer who has represented shoppers concerned in Occupy Wall Avenue mass arrests, advised The Enchantment. Stecklow mentioned that when NYPD polices demonstrations they understand as pleasant, just like the Blue Lives Matter protest in July in Bay Ridge, they take a hands-off method. “When they’re policing Occupy, the RNC, BLM, then it doesn’t matter for those who’re collaborating in expressive speech exercise, they’re not ready so that you can commit civil disobedience earlier than they make that arrest.”
Activists shortly dubbed SRG “the goon squad” — and shortly afterward the unit grew to become identified for its aggressive conduct and what seemed to be targeted surveillance of notably lively protesters and teams. Officer Numael Amador was removed from the unit and suspended for choking two activists throughout an try to cease the deportation of immigration rights activist Ravi Ragbir within the winter of 2018. Even earlier than the Ragbir incident, Amador had 15 Civilian Grievance Assessment Board complaints on his report, together with 4 substantiated allegations. Additionally that 12 months, SRG officers had been photographed manhandling Metropolis Council members Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodríguez. The unit has additionally been criticized for fatal shootings, conducting drunken driving stops, allegedly falsifying DUI costs to satisfy efficiency quotas, and backing away when the Proud Boys assaulted anti-fascist protesters exterior an October 2018 occasion in Manhattan.
The Enchantment reviewed movies from protests throughout early June (together with mass arrests in Union Sq. and the South Bronx) and two weeks of sustained clashes with demonstrators in September and recognized 62 SRG officers and supervisors. Of the officers recognized:
- 46 had criticism histories with the Civilian Grievance Assessment Board, with a mean of two incidents per SRG officer. By comparability, 40 % of all NYPD personnel had two or extra incidents of alleged misconduct.
- 292 misconduct allegations had been filed with the CCRB in opposition to the 46 SRG officers. Of those, 42 officers racked up 142 abuse of authority complaints. 35 had been accused of extreme pressure. 25 had been accountable for 43 discourtesy complaints, and 5 tallied 7 allegations of offensive language.
- 14 supervisors — sergeants, lieutenants, and captains — had a number of misconduct allegations. One SRG supervisor, Lt. Ischaler Grant from SRG 4 within the Bronx, has 32 complaints involving ten separate incidents in his file since becoming a member of the NYPD in 1990, together with seven substantiated allegations. Solely two % of officers within the NYPD have extra incidents of alleged misconduct than Lieutenant Grant.
- SRG 4 had essentially the most officers — 12 — with misconduct allegations. SRG 1 in Manhattan and SRG 2 in Queens each had 9 officers with criticism histories, adopted by Staten Island’s SRG 5 with six and Brooklyn’s SRG 3 with 5.
(The CCRB, it needs to be famous, substantiates lower than 10 % of misconduct allegations).
Dunn of the NYCLU advised The Enchantment that the in depth disciplinary information of the SRG officers just about assured the “poorly conceived” unit would trigger issues when placed on the entrance strains of controlling demonstrations. “You probably have a unit made up of officers with substantial histories of misconduct, you’re assured to have issues when that unit is assigned to police protests,” Dunn mentioned, including that supervisors with thick personnel information “aren’t the individuals you need working a unit that interacts with protests.”
When the George Floyd protests in New York Metropolis started late within the spring, SRG officers deployed “Cobra groups” of bicycle and foot cops which have been entrance and middle in violent clashes with demonstrators. On Might 28, the very first demonstration within the metropolis was disrupted by yellow-clad SRG bicycle cops, a few of whom bludgeoned demonstrators with their mountain bikes. The Enchantment has realized that Officer Yuriy Demchenko of SRG 3 is among the officers accused of utilizing his bicycle as a weapon, and is the topic of at the least two use-of-force complaints.
Detective Craig Jacob of SRG 1 can be dealing with a use-of-force allegation for wielding his bike as a weapon through the Might protests. Since becoming a member of the NYPD in 2004, Jacob has amassed 13 CCRB complaints, together with two allegations of improperly pointing a weapon and one allegation of racially offensive language.
In 2018, Demchenko was the topic of a civil-rights lawsuit accusing him of falsifying costs in opposition to a Coney Island lady whose home was raided in a narcotics sting. Based on court docket information, Demchenko wrote up a legal criticism claiming that marijuana, crack cocaine, and codeine had been discovered throughout a search of the lady’s condominium, info gleaned from an nameless tip. However no narcotics had been recovered through the search. The town settled with the lady for roughly $24,000.
SRG additionally spearheaded the mass arrest of greater than 250 demonstrators, authorized observers, and medical staff on June 4 within the South Bronx, throughout a controversial weeklong citywide curfew. The mass arrests appeared to be orchestrated by Chief of Division Terence Monahan, the highest-ranking uniformed member of the NYPD. Monahan performed a outstanding position within the 2004 Republican Nationwide Conference arrests later dominated illegal by a United State District Court docket choose.
A whole lot of demonstrators had been diverted off Willis Avenue by a roadblock of fifty officers after which kettled at 136th Avenue and Brook Avenue by closely armored SRG bike cops, a lot of whom had their names and badge numbers hid. As was the case with the Union Sq. protests, SRG officers once more battered individuals with their mountain bikes, forcing the gang of tons of right into a avenue sealed on each side by riot officers. Police climbed on automobiles to strike the gang with batons. The SRG’s use of their bikes as “weapons” in opposition to protesters was highlighted by James, the state lawyer common, in a report from her workplace on the NYPD’s dealing with of the summer time protests.
The next day, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea claimed that the group organizing the march was looking for to harm officers, not have interaction in protest. “This wasn’t once more about protests, this was about tearing down society,” Shea mentioned. Over 100 demonstrators had been injured that night, in accordance with a Sept. 30 Human Right Watch report on the incident that labeled NYPD’s conduct as “severe violations of worldwide human rights regulation” and the First Modification.
Stecklow, the Occupy Wall Avenue lawyer, is representing a dozen individuals arrested on the June 4 protest. He mentioned the kettle was meant to sow worry and discourage protesters from turning out sooner or later. “Everybody was afraid of being trampled, contracting the virus, even being killed,” he mentioned. “This was accomplished by design — the following time there’s a protest, persons are much less prone to exit and be a part of.” Stecklow has two separate civil fits in state courts difficult the NYPD’s policing of sidewalk protests, one in every of which is heading to trial.
The June 4 protest is the topic of at the least 17 separate complaints underneath investigation by the CCRB. In an Oct. 2 look on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Present,” Mayor Invoice de Blasio said he had not read the Human Rights Watch report, and “a few of that characterization doesn’t sound like what I heard on the time, together with from our personal observers.”
In the course of the ICE protests in Occasions Sq. on Sept. 19, SRG officers shortly kettled a number of dozen marchers and cyclists, shifting first on the bicyclists as they stepped into the road with the stroll sign.
“They surrounded the bikers from the again and the entrance. This was a deliberate assault on peaceable protesters,” mentioned Luis Galilei, a 27-year-old protester from Harlem who was one of many cyclists tackled and arrested by SRG cops in Occasions Sq.. Galilei, who faces a disorderly conduct cost together with the 85 others arrested that day, mentioned the officers pinned him to the bottom by urgent their knees into his again.
Video of the Sept. 19 mass arrests obtained by The Enchantment present situations of SRG officers — some with in depth disciplinary histories — utilizing pressure to arrest protesters who sat in the midst of Occasions Sq. in an act of mass civil disobedience. Sgt. Keith Hockaday, a former Bronx housing cop now assigned to SRG 2 out of the identical borough, is seen utilizing his baton to pressure activists to undergo handcuffs. Over his profession, Hockaday has amassed 16 CCRB complaints, together with 5 use of pressure allegations. Not one of the complaints in opposition to Hockaday had been substantiated. He has additionally been the topic of at the least 10 civil fits, together with 5 instances settled by the town for $91,000 complete that embody allegations of false arrest, falsifying legal costs, and unlawful searches.
One other SRG supervisor who assaulted Occasions Sq. arrestees is Sgt. Steven Gansrow, a former narcotics officer in Brooklyn and Queens with 15 CCRB complaints in his personnel file, together with two substantiated complaints for an illegal stop-and-frisk. Gansrow is assigned to SRG 4 in Queens.
One of many SRG bike officers who arrange the Occasions Sq. kettle was Sgt. Matthew Tocco of the Dysfunction Management Unit. Tocco has amassed 21 CCRB complaints since becoming a member of the NYPD in 2006, together with allegations of chokeholds, improperly pointing a gun, beating suspects together with his nightclub, extreme pressure, discourtesy, and refusing to supply his badge quantity. The vast majority of complaints—15 of which contain claims of extreme pressure—had been accrued throughout his time within the West Village’s Sixth Precinct within the 2000s and 2010s. Not one of the complaints in opposition to Tocco had been substantiated.
Additionally supervising the bike officers in Occasions Sq. that day was Sgt. Richard Jones from SRG 1, stationed on forty second Avenue one and a half a blocks from the Hudson River. Jones, who has had 9 CCRB complaints in opposition to him (none substantiated) since changing into an officer in 1999, has a historical past of alleged misconduct at demonstrations. On Dec. 17, 2011, he arrested Michael Premo at an Occupy Wall Avenue march and charged him with felony assault. In a legal criticism, Jones claimed that Premo attacked and injured him whereas resisting arrest. After 14 months, 13 court docket appearances and 4 trial dates, a jury acquitted Premo of all costs. He filed a civil suit in opposition to Jones and the NYPD over the incident and obtained a $55,000 settlement. By surrounding the demonstrators and arresting them inside seconds of issuing a pre-recorded dispersal order, SRG returned to ways from the 2004 Republican Nationwide Conference that courts later deemed unlawful.
“In RNC instances, we sued them over a bunch of various arrest areas and practices — one in every of them was a kettle on sixteenth Avenue on August 31, 2004, the ‘day of anarchy,’ when the cops did all these pre-emptive arrests,” mentioned Oliver, one of many attorneys concerned within the conference litigation. “In Occasions Sq., they did what they did within the Mott Haven kettle within the Bronx, which was to both direct and let protesters go down a sure place the place that they had a entice arrange, with cops on each ends.”
“They should present a warning. It’s not ample for them to say, ‘OK, everyone disperse,’ after which come and make arrests,” mentioned David Rankin, an lawyer who spoke at a Sept. 21 press convention held by the Occasions Sq. arrestees.
Lengthy-Time period Penalties
The NYPD’s policing of demonstrations might have long-term penalties for a metropolis struggling to dig its approach out of COVID-19’s financial chasm. Not less than 98 notices of declare have been filed with the New York Metropolis comptroller in relation to the SRG-led Bronx mass arrest in June alone, probably costing metropolis taxpayers thousands and thousands in authorized settlements. Since Might 26, the CCRB has obtained at the least 18 complaints in opposition to SRG officers. The impartial oversight company is investigating greater than 750 complaints associated to the protests.
Every passing week appears to convey new situations of hyper-aggressive protest policing by the SRG.
On Sept. 26, SRG officers arrested a dozen demonstrators in a tumultuous scene on a West Village avenue, with riot and bicycle officers diving in amongst outside restaurant patrons to make arrests. The incident shocked passersby and drew instantaneous criticism from legislators. Brad Hoylman, who represents the neighborhood within the New York State Senate, wrote on Twitter that he had contacted the NYPD for a proof, labeling that night’s occasions a “disturbing escalation of pressure” that was “unwarranted and unacceptable. On the evening of Oct. 5, 24 demonstrators calling for the arrest of a Texas police officer who shot and killed Jonathan Price had been arrested and briefly detained by SRG on minor costs — together with stopping officers from NYPD’s surveillance specialists within the Technical Help Response Unit from filming the protest — in Decrease Manhattan. In remarks to the media, Commissioner Shea insulted the protesters and mentioned they had been maintaining officers away from calls about violent crime — though the SRG has been ever-present at protests, and taking pictures incidents citywide have fallen since a midsummer peak. “We don’t want officers pulled away for these, generally I don’t know what you name them — peaceable protesters — perhaps spoiled brats at this level,” Shea mentioned.
The NYPD and SRG’s tough remedy of demonstrators for the final a number of months has fueled, quite than tamped down, avenue protests. Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a Bronx resident who was arrested on June 4 and spoke with Human Rights Look ahead to its report, mentioned the preliminary demonstrations swelled “as a result of police brutality protesters had been being viciously, viciously attacked from Brooklyn all the way in which to the Bronx.”
“It has mobilized lots of people to get out,” he mentioned.
Ali Winston (@awinston) is an investigative reporter on surveillance, privateness and legal justice.