Attorney General James’ NYPD Suit Points Another Finger at Top Cop for Protest Crackdowns

Attorney General James’ NYPD Suit Points Another Finger at Top Cop for Protest Crackdowns

Greg B. Smith, THE CITY

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NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan speaks at a news conference about the spread of COVID-19, March 2, 2020.
NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan speaks at a news conference about the spread of COVID-19, March 2, 2020. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea were the two biggest names cited by state Attorney General Letitia James in a lawsuit filed Thursday seeking a monitor to oversee the NYPD’s handling of protests.

But a lesser-known, yet key figure emerged once again as the architect of the NYPD’s aggressive response to the police misconduct demonstrations that erupted last summer: Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

As THE CITY reported last year, Monahan has been cited before for supervising the over-policing of peaceful protests, directing cops to make unlawful arrests and allowing the use of excessive force.

In 2006, a Civilian Complaint Review Board report found he’d personally overseen the unlawful arrests of dozens of protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.

This past October, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a federal lawsuit alleging overuse of excessive force during the summer protests. That suit also named the mayor, the police commissioner and Monahan as defendants.

In December, Monahan figured prominently in a report filed by the city Department of Investigation criticizing police tactics during the summer’s protests, which began in late May days after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis cop and grew to include broader demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice.

In her lawsuit, James repeatedly cites Monahan as being personally involved during sweeps where, she alleges, cops wound up beating and wrongfully arresting dozens of protesters who were later released.

The AG’s suit, assigned to Chief Manhattan Federal Judge Colleen McMahon, who is also handling the NYCLU’s suit, charges the mayor, Shea and Monahan “deliberately failed to prevent NYPD officers from using [prohibited] tactics” to crack down on protesters.

Rumble in The Bronx

James cited Monahan’s personal involvement in a June 4 protest in The Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood where cops trapped 250 protesters using a technique known as “kettling” — and then arrested them for violating a curfew instituted by de Blasio. 

During the sweep, legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild, who were supposed to be exempt from the curfew, were also detained.

The AG alleged that hundreds of protesters were hemmed in by the cops and then told to disperse due to the arrival of the 8 p.m. curfew then in effect. With Monahan supervising, cops then rushed in and began making mass arrests, the lawsuit states.

Monahan “allowed the interference with legal observers” and “directed NYPD officers to make multiple unlawful arrests,” the suit alleges. 

New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

The suit further charges that Monahan personally “witnessed officers engage in excessive force against protesters” and did nothing to stop them.

Human Rights Watch later charged the NYPD’s actions amounted to human rights abuses.

The Mott Haven protest also surfaced in the DOI’s December report, which noted that investigators had interviewed Monahan and described his involvement in the incident in which legal observers were taken into custody. 

The DOI quoted Monahan as blaming the NYPD’s Legal Bureau, insisting that they had okayed the arrest of the attorney observers but that “when he learned of the arrests of legal observers, he ordered their release.”

Those same allegations regarding the Mott Haven arrests are outlined in the NYCLU’s lawsuit, and they echo Monahan’s involvement in the RNC protest arrests nearly 17 years ago.

The CCRB did a lengthy investigation and determined that Monahan was in charge when cops trapped a group of protesters — and ordered them to disperse without providing them a way out.

In a 2006 letter to then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the CCRB warned the department to make sure lawful protesters are given a chance to respond to police orders before cops sweep in to make mass arrests.

Two Monitors Better Than One?

James’ suit notes that Monahan was responsible for keeping both the mayor and Shea informed on police response to last year’s protests — and that Monahan had acknowledged that “a lot of” cops weren’t properly trained to handle them.

The AG requested the appointment of a monitor to oversee NYPD’s handling of future demonstrations. 

The NYPD is already subject to oversight by a monitor, attorney Peter Zimroth, appointed following the 2013 federal court order finding the NYPD had for years violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of Black and Hispanic people through the unconstitutional use of stop-and-frisk. 

The attorney general also asked the judge to issue an order finding that “the policies and practices that the NYPD used during these protests were unlawful.”

An NYPD spokesperson on Thursday declined to discuss specific allegations in James’ suit, but issued a prepared statement insisting that the department “welcomes reform and has embraced the recent suggestions by both the city’s Department of Investigation and the city’s Law Department.”

“As the mayor has said, adding another layer does not speed up the process of continued reform, which we have embraced and led the way on,” the statement added.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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