Protesters ‘kettled’ by NYPD in 2020 will get $21,500 each in a landmark settlement
New York City has agreed to pay at least $21,500 each to individuals who say they were boxed in, pepper-sprayed and arrested by police in the Bronx during social justice protests in the summer of 2020.
The proposed settlement with potentially more than 300 demonstrators would cost the city millions of dollars, marking one of the highest per-person payouts in a class-action settlement over mass arrests in U.S. history, according to the lawyers who brought the suit.
A judge must approve the proposal, filed late Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The settlement is significant not only because of the size of the payout but also because it is being awarded to those whose 1st Amendment rights were violated, said Rachel Moran, founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.
“It’s large numbers of people who were not brutally injured, but who were peacefully protesting, and the police just illegally shut down those protests,” Moran said.
According to the lawsuit, about 320 demonstrators had gathered on the night of June 4, 2020, in Mott Haven, a low-income neighborhood of mostly Black and brown residents, as racial justice protests swept the country after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Deon Jones’ legal battle to hold the LAPD accountable for wounding him at a 2020 protest has been long and arduous. The city has made it that way.
As protesters peacefully marched through the neighborhood, police encircled and trapped the crowd by forming walls to block off both ends of a street, a tactic known as “kettling.” According to the lawsuit, the crowd was boxed in before the city’s 8 p.m. curfew, which had been imposed several days earlier.
The lawsuit alleged that minutes after curfew began, police began to attack the crowd using batons, shields and pepper spray before arresting 312 people. Charges against everyone were dismissed by the Bronx district attorney’s office.
Demonstrators were handcuffed with zip ties that often cut off their circulation and were detained for hours, the lawsuit said.
A day after the mass arrests in Mott Haven, then-Police Commissioner Dermot Shea praised the operation and said it was “executed nearly flawlessly,” according to the lawsuit. Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio also defended kettling, with both leaders saying the tactic was necessary to fend off burglaries and chaos taking place in some Manhattan neighborhoods.
Among the demonstrators kettled in Mott Haven was Henry Wood, one of five plaintiffs named in the suit.
“The violence unleashed upon us that night was intentional, unwarranted, and will be with me for the rest of my life. What the NYPD did, aided by the political powers of New York City, was an extreme abuse of power,” Wood said in a statement. “While I am relieved that we have been able to secure some monetary restitution for those of us brutalized by the NYPD that night, nothing will change what happened to us and so many others suffering under the boot of the police in America.”
When Jacqueline McBride and two other Los Angeles police officers fatally shot a homeless woman last week as she pointed what turned out to be a pellet gun at them she became the third member of her immediate family on the force to shoot someone.
In a statement, the New York Police Department said that it had “re-envisioned” much of its policies and training for policing mass demonstrations after an internal review and investigations by three outside agencies, adding that it “remains committed to continually improving its practices in every way possible.”
The 2020 demonstrations came during a “challenging moment for the department as officers who themselves were suffering under the strains of a global pandemic did their utmost to help facilitate people’s rights to peaceful expression all while addressing acts of lawlessness including wide-scale rioting, mass chaos, violence, and destruction,” the NYPD said.
The proposed settlement was filed on the eve of a New York City Council oversight hearing on the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a crowd-control unit whose officers were involved in multiple clashes during the 2020 protests. The Police Department did not show up to the hearing.
Under the terms of the proposal, Mott Haven protesters who have not individually settled with the city and submit a claim form should receive payment by the end of the year. Some are eligible for an additional $2,500, the law firm said. Attorneys expect a judge to grant preliminary approval to the settlement in the coming days before final approval in October.
“We feel very confident that the court is going to approve the settlement because it adequately recognizes the harm that these protesters face,” said attorney Ali Frick.
A lawsuit alleging violent abuses of power by L.A. police during recent protests now includes more details on injuries suffered by demonstrators.
The lawsuit in New York is one of a number of cases across the country, including in Seattle, Denver, Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; and other cities, where racial justice protests throughout the summer of 2020 escalated into clashes between police and crowds. Though the demonstrations were largely peaceful, leaders often pointed to incidents of unrest, burglary and vandalism to defend law enforcement agencies that were increasingly using violence against protesters.
A federal case is underway in Los Angeles, where a man and his legal team have gone to great lengths to prove allegations that an LAPD police officer had unjustly shot him in the face with a hard-foam projectile at a 2020 protest.
According to data provided to The Times, Los Angeles Police Department investigators have rejected all but about 2% of misconduct allegations out of the hundreds leveled against officers during and after the protests.
A half-dozen civil claims against Los Angeles officers have been settled before trial — costing taxpayers nearly $1.7 million to date — but always without admission of guilt or wrongdoing. A class-action lawsuit brought by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and others remains pending, focusing more on the culpability of the city and the LAPD than on individual officers.
Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.