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February 6, 2023, 10:16 AM

Cops’ use of pepper spray, batons on George Floyd protesters violated NYPD rules: watchdog report

By Rocco Parascandola

Three dozen NYPD officers accused of excessive force and other misconduct during the George Floyd protests were not disciplined, according to a scathing report released Monday by the watchdog group that substantiated charges against them.

The findings are contained in a 590-page report by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the latest chapter in the fallout from the mass protests that erupted after Black Minnesota man Floyd was killed by a white cop on May 25, 2020.

The report found 146 cops violated NYPD rules 269 times during the protests, with 34 demonstrators struck with batons, 28 pepper-sprayed and 59 roughed up with physical force.

The real tally of violations is likely much higher, the CCRB suggested — there were 609 allegations in which officers could not be identified because they covered their badge numbers or refused to provide their names, or because their supervisors lost track of where they were assigned.

The NYPD, which made more than 2,000 arrests during the heated protests, defended itself in a statement, noting that rioters vandalized police cars — setting some on fire — looted high-end stores, most notably in SoHo, and attacked cops.

Two lieutenants slugged with bricks were among more than 400 cops hurt, 250 of whom were hospitalized. Videos captured a number of violent confrontations between cops and protesters and outright acts of vandalism and other crimes by rioters.

“Although the CCRB report focuses on, and attempts, to magnify the actions of those 138 officers, the fact remains that 99.37% of NYPD officers did exactly what was expected of them,” the NYPD said in a statement that referred to the accused officers still on the force, “which was to protect peaceful protest as well as every community in this city while serving with courtesy, professionalism and respect.”

Police union head Patrick Lynch was also critical, blasting the “anti-cop activists at CCRB,” but also blaming police and city leaders for “management failures.”

“We are still awaiting ‘accountability’ for the city leaders who sent us out with no plan and no support,” said Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, “and for the criminals who injured more than 400 of our brothers and sisters.”

All told, the CCRB received more than 750 complaints that contained more than 2,000 allegations of misconduct. Investigators determined 321 of those complaints were within its jurisdiction, and they were able to fully investigate 226 of them. The others included cases in which, for instance, the complainant refused to speak to the review board.

Of the 226 complaints, 88 were substantiated and the CCRB recommended departmental charges against 89 officers and command disciplines — typically the loss of vacation days — against 57 others. Thus far, 78 cases have been fully adjudicated in the NYPD trial room at Police Headqurters, with 42 officers getting disciplined. Commissioner Keechant Sewell or her predecessor Dermot Shea have made the final calls.

“If this misconduct goes unaddressed, it will never be reformed,” Arva Rice, the CCRB’s interim board chairwoman, stated in the report’s introduction.

In late 2020, Shea told the city Department of Investigation that he felt the NYPD had been well prepared for the demonstrations and that “the officers did a phenomenal job under extremely difficult circumstances.”

But the Department of Investigation later released a 111-page report that concluded the NYPD was unprepared, using disorder-control tactics that heightened tensions on the street and violated the First Amendment rights of protesters.

“The response really was a failure on many levels,” then-Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said. And then-Mayor Bill de Blasio said he agreed with the report’s findings, even as he noted that most cops did their job the right way.

The CCRB report cited a number of high-profile incidents including cops in two patrol cars driving through a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn, Manhattan protesters getting pepper-sprayed, and the mass arrest of more than 250 protesters who were surrounded by police, led by then-Chief of Department Terence Monahan, in Mott Haven, the Bronx. Monahan later retired and was not charged by the CCRB.

The new report contains a number of recommendations, including that cops need to be better trained at dealing with protesters and not take action against protesters who comply with police orders to disperse or against reporters and legal observers.

Mayor Adams said in a statement that cops must follow the law and “be held accountable for their actions,” adding he’s glad the NYPD has already taken steps to improve how it deals with protests.

But the Legal Aid Society and the New York Civil Liberties Union said in a joint statement that the NYPD can’t have the final word on how its cops are disciplined. They said that Sewell’s plan, revealed last month, to amend sentencing guidelines for cops accused of wrongdoing will erode the public’s trust in police.

With Michael Gartland