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Top NYPD Curfew Cop Faulted for Mass Arrest Tactics During 2004 GOP Convention

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan
NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan
@NYPDChiefofDept/Twitter

The top NYPD cop who oversaw mass arrests in The Bronx on Thursday, which started with officers beating protesters with batons, was cited by the Civilian Complaint Review Board for heavy-handed tactics in a mass arrest during the 2004 GOP convention.

Then-Deputy Chief Terence Monahan was in charge on Aug. 31, 2004, when demonstrators were rounded up in Lower Manhattan — even after they’d been told they could march, an examination by THE CITY found.

Monahan, now the NYPD’s chief of department, initiated the arrests after deciding demonstrators weren’t properly following police instructions, the CCRB determined.

Some 227 protesters, hemmed in by a fence on one side and cops on the other, were swept up. Then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau later dismissed all charges against everyone.

On Thursday night, Monahan was captured on video standing by as police moved in, whacking Bronx protesters who say they were peacefully assembling to voice their anger about the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white Minneapolis cop. Monahan was the highest-ranking police official at the scene.

Monahan, who recently garnered much publicity after taking a knee with protesters during another gathering in The Bronx on Monday, has been supervising the NYPD’s enforcement of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 8 p.m.-to-5 a.m. nightly curfew.

Over the last three nights, cops have trapped thousands of protesters in tight areas. In at least two incidents — the one in The Bronx and another in downtown Brooklyn — police were seen on video striking civilians with nightsticks before making mass arrests.

Multiple local politicians, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former police captain, have called on de Blasio to end the curfew.

On Friday, the mayor said the restrictions would continue through the weekend — and stop on Monday, when the city begins Phase 1 of reopening from the coronavirus pandemic shelter-in-place restrictions.

An NYPD spokesperson on Friday promised to respond by Tuesday morning to THE CITY’s “complex set of questions — all of which we are certain can be answered.”

Nowhere to Go

During the post-curfew marches over the last few nights, protesters have complained about getting mixed messages about what they’re allowed to do. They say they’re essentially left alone — until cops move in violently to disperse the crowd.

As chief of department, Monahan has been heavily involved in supervising how the department handles these protests.

The issue of trapping protesters surfaced repeatedly during the 2004 GOP convention, including in the mass arrests ordered by Monahan that were cited by the CCRB.

“Marchers who wanted to comply with the order had limited means by which to leave the area: They were blocked by a wrought iron fence on their left, a line of police officers on bicycles on their right, and other marchers in front of and behind them,” CCRB Chairman Hector Gonzalez and Executive Director Florence Finkle wrote to then-Commissioner Ray Kelly in a May 2006 letter.

“The only realistic departure route for those who wished to leave — and the [video] footage suggests that many marchers did not want to be arrested — would have been through the line of officers, some of whom did not hear the chief’s dispersal order and therefore prevented civilians from passing,” they wrote.

The CCRB letter quoted from the NYPD’s “Legal Guidelines for the Republican National Convention” that stated a policy “to accommodate … marches, whether planned or unplanned, in order to minimize disruption.”

“To reasonably accommodate such marches, it is imperative that police deliver orders in a manner that civilians can hear and understand and with which they can comply. It is the board’s hope that after reviewing these two incidents, the department can improve and/or reinforce its training to avoid similar situations in the future,” the letter advises.

The week of the GOP convention, dozens of protests erupted around Manhattan as conventioneers nominated then-President George W. Bush for re-election at Madison Square Garden.

Day after day, police made multiple mass arrests, often sweeping up innocent pedestrians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The CCRB received more than 60 complaints related to those arrests, and ultimately substantiated three. The board also singled out two deputy chiefs for criticism — and Monahan was one of them, according to three sources familiar with the agency’s investigation and a draft report obtained by THE CITY.

A Failure to Communicate

The CCRB investigation looked at how an Aug. 31, 2004, protest organized by the War Resisters League that started in Lower Manhattan was handled.

The protesters wanted to march uptown to Madison Square Garden, and negotiated with Monahan and an inspector at the scene. They reached an agreement to proceed down Fulton Street and then up Broadway, according to three sources familiar with the investigation and a draft of the CCRB’s report that names Monahan.

Video shows the inspector told demonstrators to stay on the sidewalk and march “single or double file” to avoid blocking pedestrians and to “comply with the lights.” “Have a safe march,” he shouted through a bullhorn, the report states.

Two minutes later, a deputy chief — identified by sources as Monahan — ordered the march to stop and yelled, without a bullhorn, “You are all blocking the sidewalk. If you do not disperse you will be placed under arrest.”

Within a minute, the deputy ordered officers to arrest all the marchers along the sidewalk.

Those arrested were restrained with plastic ties, and transported to be booked on unspecified crimes.

The CCRB noted that the sudden change of instruction, made without a bullhorn, “raises the possibility that police arrested civilians who might have obeyed police commands had they heard them.”

NYPD officers stand guard outside Madison Square Garden during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
NYPD officers stand guard outside Madison Square Garden during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Mike Hudack/flickr

The CCRB determined that Monahan and the since-retired Deputy Chief Stephen Paragallo, who was involved in the separate arrests of 15 people near Penn Station later that day, had failed to communicate clearly to protesters their requirements for marching before initiating mass arrests.

“If the deputy chiefs had employed different tactics, the police department may possibly have avoided arresting a large number of individuals,” the CCRB officials wrote to Kelly.

‘Let People Out’

On Friday, former CCRB Director Finkle, now a board member of the National Association for the Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, noted some of the same issues that led to the arrests of peaceful protesters in 2004 appear to be with us today.

Among them: penning in large groups of people.

“You have to let people leave. You have to have a path out,” she said. “These are obviously recurring issues when it comes to policing demonstrations and protests. It’s unfortunate that some of the recommendations from that letter the PD has not adopted 16 years later.”

She also noted that in 2004 the police did not resort to swinging nightsticks, but swept up protesters with long, orange plastic mesh netting. She questioned why the NYPD isn’t relying on that tactic now to reduce the possibility of violence in the Floyd demonstrations.

“We expect them to keep their cool and adhere to the guidelines,” she said of the police. “This is a difficult and challenging circumstance for any department, including the NYPD. But we hold officers to high standards and we expect them to remain restrained.

“We hold them to a high standard because they have this power to use force against us.”

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