A Brooklyn protester who was forcefully shoved to the pavement by a police officer during the spring 2020 protests has settled her federal lawsuit against the city — an agreement that includes a rare payment out of the officer’s own pocket.
Under the terms of the settlement, the city will pay 22-year-old Dounya Zayer $387,000, after a viral video showed an officer using both arms to aggressively push her into a street curb near the Barclays Center on May 29, 2020.
Officer Vincent D’Andraia, who allegedly shoved her that night, is required to personally pay $3,000, settlement documents filed in Brooklyn federal court show.
“You can never put a number on what happened, and the trauma and emotional toll it had on Dounya,” said her attorney, Tahanie Aboushi. But “it’s important that he is held accountable and he shares some responsibility for what happened.”
The city Law Department refused to represent D’Andraia in the case but did have to agree on the settlement as city government’s legal team. Instead, he was covered by a city-financed union defense fund.
Nicholas Paolucci, a Law Department spokesperson, said the settlement “was in the best interest of all parties.”
D’Andraia’s union lawyer did not respond to a request seeking comment.
Aside from the civil case, D’Andraia is facing a criminal charge — misdemeanor assault — for injuring Zayer, including causing her a concussion, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
D’Andraia, who has pleaded not guilty, is scheduled to go on trial starting March 2 in Brooklyn Criminal Court. His attorney in that case didn’t respond to a request for comment.
A Viral Push
Zayer told THE CITY months after the incident that she had lingering physical and emotional trauma.
A video that blew up on social media showed the tail end of the incident, which took place in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. It shows a stocky officer with “NYPD” letters on the back of his shirt forcefully give Zayer a two-handed shove.
Rotated @JasonLemon's video of a NYPD officer shoving a protester to the ground pretty violently right in front of a bunch of cops, including a senior officer of at least a lieutenant or above based on the white shirt. pic.twitter.com/q8icXDrWAP— Matt Ortega (@MattOrtega) May 30, 2020
She can be seen flailing backward, landing hard on the pavement, then holding her head with both arms.
The clip shows the officer, flanked by a white-shirted superior, continue to walk down the street among a mix of protesters, cops and news media. No police personnel can be seen checking on Zayer’s condition in the brief clip.
“The fact that the inspector saw it happened and kept walking — there’s a level of normalcy there, that an officer can do that and keep walking,” said Aboushi. “That it’s business as usual.”
Taxpayer Funded Brutality
The latest civil settlement highlights how taxpayers are on the hook to defend and pay up for cops’ bad behavior, even when the Law Department refuses to represent the officer due to the weakness of the case.
All told, New York City has doled out more than $1.1 billion for NYPD misconduct cases since 2015, more than any other city agency, according to the city Comptroller, which tracks payouts.
But civil settlements do little to punish officers who abuse their power, said Joel Berger, a lawyer who specializes in police abuse cases and who, in the 1990s, served as a senior official in the Law Department who decided when the city should withdraw representation of officers.
“This is a persistent problem in dealing with police misconduct,” he said. “The lawsuits provide much needed compensation to victims but the real question is what are you going to do about the officer.”
Critics contend that police officers, and other city workers, should be obligated to pay for their own bad behavior. They contend that would prevent further abuses.
Berger said it was “astonishing” that D’Andraia “would only kick in such a tiny amount.”
“It’s bizarre,” he added, “any guy who costs the city that much money must have done something pretty bad. This is a subject that has long concerned me. In these lawsuits, the only people who really wind up being hurt are the taxpayers.”
The civil case also brings to light backroom deals that sometimes require officers to cover some, albeit relatively small sums, of the payout.
D’Andraia remains on the force on modified duty, according to a police spokesperson.
The NYPD wouldn’t provide a status on any possible discipline he may be facing. Department officials typically wait to bring charges while there’s a pending criminal case so as not to jeopardize or complicate the outcome of that proceeding.
Officers who are convicted or who plead guilty to a felony are automatically fired, based on union contracts. D’Andraia is facing a misdemeanor offense.
As for the civil case, last year New York City became the first major municipality to ban “qualified immunity,” the federal doctrine that makes it harder to accuse government officials of civil-rights violations. But the city law only applies to unreasonable searches and seizures as well as excessive force.
In the majority of NYPD cases, police officers themselves are not on the hook to cover any civil payout, according to research by UCLA Law professor Joanna Schwartz. Just 35 cops had to personally pay during the study’s six-year period from 2006 to 2011. Of those cases, half were less than $2,125, the study found.
“These things are extremely fact specific,” said Rae Koshetz, the former NYPD deputy commissioner for trials who now primarily defends officers facing charges.
“But the idea of having a police officer contribute toward a settlement in a situation where the officer was clearly wrong doesn’t offend my sense of justice,” she added.
Few Officers Disciplined
The city Law Department typically defends officers accused of wrongdoing in civil court, records show. City lawyers can decline when they conclude that the officer likely acted outside “the scope of his public employment and in the discharge of his duties” and violated internal disciplinary rules.”
Just 48 of 562 cases with police officers as defendants in 2019 were declined by the Law Department, ProPublica reported last March.
Zayer’s civil suit also named D’Andraia’s supervising officer at the 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn, Deputy Inspector Craig Edelman, for not intervening in the incident despite being right there when it happened.
Edelman was transferred out of his command in Brownsville within weeks, but landed in a high-level role at the citywide Gun Violence Suppression Division.
Mayor Eric Adams has said he intends to pour resources into that division as part of his blueprint to stem shooting incidents in the city.
D’Andraia is among dozens of officers who were accused of misconduct against protesters during the widespread demonstrations in May and June 2020 following Floyd’s killing by police.
More than 18 months later, relatively few of those officers have faced discipline from the NYPD.
Among a group of 64 officers whose alleged misconduct was caught on video, police officials substantiated serious wrongdoing against five of them — including D’Andraia.
As THE CITY has reported, the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau found that D’Andraia wrongfully used excessive force against a civilian in the Zayer case.
Police officials referred THE CITY to an online disciplinary database when asked whether D’Andraia had been disciplined for that finding. The database shows no disciplinary information for him.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is designed to be an independent watchdog of certain police misconduct — including excessive force.
Board members reported in December that the CCRB had been investigating 318 complaints stemming from 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests and closed 238 of them — with 53 complaints substantiated.
Of the 12 cases against officers finalized by the NYPD thus far, discipline was imposed in just three of them, according to the CCRB.
The board is still investigating D’Andraia’s case, according to a spokesperson.