Two politicians who were attacked by NYPD officers during the protests following the murder of George Floyd have settled their federal lawsuit against New York City.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) and former Assemblymember Diana Richardson, also a Democrat from Brooklyn, will each receive a payout of $15,001, according to the terms of the settlement. Their attorneys will receive $385,000, according to Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city Law Department, meaning the city is paying $415,000 to resolve the matter. The settlement, which has not been previously reported, was finalized on June 23.
Richardson, who went on to briefly serve as Brooklyn deputy borough president, and Myrie both declined to comment on the settlement, in which neither the city nor the NYPD admitted to any wrongdoing.
The settlement also ends the pair’s claims against former Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, other top-ranking NYPD officials and several of the officers that allegedly roughed them up.
“This resolution was in the best interest of all parties,” Paolucci said. “The NYPD remains committed to continually improving its practices in every way.”
Spokespeople for the NYPD, who have repeatedly defended the department’s handling of the 2020 protests, didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the settlement.
The lawsuit stemmed from a May 29, 2020 demonstration during which hundreds of protesters converged around Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, only for NYPD officers to begin pummeling them with batons and pepper spray.
In their joint lawsuit, Myrie and Richardson, who’ve since gotten engaged, described being circled by NYPD officers using their bicycles to block them from leaving the area. The officers then picked up their bikes and used them to bash the protesters they had hemmed in, the suit recounts, before officers sprayed cans of pepper spray at their faces.
Richardson said a bystander pulled her to safety, while officers pounced on Myrie, dragging him away in zip tie handcuffs. Eventually an officer realized Myrie was a lawmaker, and flagged him to Chief Jeffrey Maddrey, who then ordered his release, according to the lawsuit.
On that chaotic spring evening, Richardson spoke to this reporter moments after getting pepper-sprayed, her eyes pink, tears still streaming down her face.
“The NYPD is being excessively aggressive with this crowd here,” she yelled in a video recording that was cited repeatedly in her lawsuit. “I’m an elected official and they just pepper-sprayed me for no reason. We were only peacefully assembling.”
Richardson and Myrie both said they experienced anxiety and depression along with a fear of large crowds and a fear of being attacked by members of the NYPD again.
“The experience was a painful and humiliating reminder that following the rules and complying with police orders does not protect Black Americans from police brutality, not even Black Americans who have ascended to elected office,” the lawsuit read.
Officer Jessica Clinton, who Richardson had said raised up her fists as if to fight with her, was docked up to five vacation days by the NYPD, according to Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) records.
The CCRB substantiated charges against another officer, Michael Kovalik, who was seen on body camera footage holding a canister of pepper spray up to Myrie’s head. While that could have led to his termination, suspension, or a loss of vacation days, an NYPD judge dismissed all the allegations against him last summer. No other officer involved faced departmental discipline in the incident.
All told, the CCRB received more than 750 complaints about officers during the 2020 protests and substantiated allegations of serious misconduct against 89 police officers, a report from the agency in February revealed, though only 12 of those officers had been disciplined by the NYPD.
The NYPD’s aggressive tactics against people protesting police violence were widely condemned, including by human rights groups and by state Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing the department for the tactics it used against demonstrators.
The settlement with Myrie and Richardson represents a small fraction of the millions New York City taxpayers are shelling out, with more to come, to protesters who were injured and mistreated by police officers night after night at the Floyd demonstrations.
Through June 24, 666 lawsuits and claims related to police misconduct at the 2020 protests have been filed against the city, according to Comptroller Brad Lander’s office, with the city already committed to paying upward of $32 million to settle various individual and class action claims of police abuse. Many more claims are still outstanding.
In Myrie and Richardson’s case, more than 90% of the money the city paid out went to their attorneys.
“The firm provided extensive pro bono legal support for these clients and litigated this complex case for more than two years at considerable expense,” Katherine Bosley, a spokesperson for the lawmakers’ legal firm, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, said in a statement.
“Our clients accepted the City’s offer of judgment in this case with an agreed upon award of damages, and the City then concluded that we were entitled to a fee award that in practice was well below market rates for our work.”