The Civilian Complaint Review Board has recommended discipline for 146 police officers for their actions during the 2020 George Floyd protests in New York City — but not a single officer, to date, has been relieved of duty, according to a report released Monday.
In some of the most egregious cases of misconduct, the CCRB report on Feb. 6 declared, the department ignored the board and imposed no discipline at all.
The NYPD, however, rejected much of the CCRB’s findings in a statement Monday, and deemed the department’s overall response to the protests as “largely professional, commendable, and responsive to the unique circumstances that were present at the time.”
Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in May and June 2020 to protest police brutality following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but many protesters found themselves on the receiving end of brute force themselves from the cops deployed to ensure their safety. Many of the incidents were caught on video.
All told, the CCRB fielded more than 800 misconduct complaints, ultimately substantiating 269 allegations against 146 officers, according to its new report on police misconduct during the protests. 140 of those allegations were for excessive force, 72 for abuse of authority, and 24 for dishonesty.
But for nearly half of the incidents, investigations were closed because officers could not be identified, many because they had purposely blocked their shield number with “mourning bands,” effectively with the blessing of former Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. The report described these acts as “pervasive and purposeful actions taken by officers to conceal their identities.”
Of the 89 officers whose conduct merited the strongest disciplinary recommendations by the CCRB, 62 are still awaiting administrative proceedings in the agency’s Administrative Prosecution Unit. Some have pled guilty in the interim.
Meanwhile, the commissioner opted to “retain” the cases of 13 officers to impose her own discipline: Four of those were made to forfeit vacation days, while nine received no discipline at all.
The proverbial slaps-on-the-wrist came even amid evidence of extensive misconduct on the part of officers during the protests, according to the report. The CCRB substantiated 59 complaints of excessive force, 34 complaints of officers striking protesters with batons, and 28 complaints of improper use of pepper spray.
More than 100 officers failed to turn on body cams during interactions with protesters, while other cops failed to complete the required arrest paperwork, the report also found.
“The Black Lives Matter Protests that occurred in the summer of 2020 were massive in scale, but not unprecedented in nature,” said CCRB interim chair Arva Rice in a statement. “It is key for New York to know how to best respond to protests, especially protests against police misconduct. It is also of the upmost importance that officers be held accountable in order to rebuild the public’s trust in the NYPD.”
Discipline was not meted out even in some of the most notorious incidents of alleged misconduct during the protests. In one instance, Officer Vincent Harris was caught on video pointing his service weapon at a crowd of protesters, an act for which former Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly demanded the officer’s gun and badge. The CCRB substantiated misconduct allegations and recommended charges.
But the report shows Harris’ case was closed by the NYPD without any discipline rendered against the officer; the department claims he was acting in response to a protester who threw a brick.
Another officer, Michael Sher, saw a recommendation of charges after pulling down a protester’s face mask to pepper spray them. He faces “dismissal probation,” wherein he could face termination only if he is found to commit more instances of misconduct.
Still another officer, Vincent D’Andraia, faced criminal charges after shoving a woman to the sidewalk near the Barclays Center, causing her to sustain a concussion. The charges have since been dropped, and a settlement reached, but the CCRB substantiated excessive force and recommended “Command Discipline B,” which can range from a formal reprimand to the loss of up to 10 vacation days. A final decision by the Police Commissioner is pending.
Charges were recommended against two officers, Andrey Samusev and Daniel Alvarez, who plowed their squad cars into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn; they are also awaiting a final verdict in their department trial.
To address the failures in policing seen during the protests, the CCRB proffered 17 broad recommendations for the NYPD to consider. Those include improved training in crowd control and the use of batons and pepper spray, not interfering with legal observers and journalists doing their jobs, always keeping names and shield numbers visible, and leaving alone civilians following orders to disperse.
Reached for comment, the NYPD issued a rebuttal to the CCRB’s findings.
“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, which was to protect peaceful protest as well as every community in this city while serving with courtesy, professionalism, and respect,” the statement reads.
The NYPD also dismissed most of the board’s recommendations as either unnecessary or already being implemented on the agency’s own volition. The department says its patrol guide already requires officers to always have their shield and nameplate visible, and argues that officers “do not take enforcement against any individual unless they have a legal basis to do so and they certainly do not take enforcement against individuals who are complying with a lawful order to disperse.”
As for access to body-cam footage, the department says the CCRB must obtain a waiver or court order due to the sensitive nature of the footage.
In a statement, Mayor Eric Adams agreed with the police’s contention that it has significantly reformed its protest policing since Floyd.
“The CCRB has a job to do and while we review the full details of the report, I’m glad that the NYPD has already adopted a number of recommendations identified by other agencies in the nearly three years since the 2020 protests, and that many of these recommendations are the same ones identified in CCRB’s report today,” said Hizzoner. “In the years since these protests, the NYPD has taken multiple actions to improve community relations and they will continue to work every day to ensure justice and safety go hand in hand for all New Yorkers.”
Advocates took the report as proof for the case of reforming the department, particularly in its use-of-force and disciplinary guidelines.
“This report shows why the NYPD cannot continue to have a monopoly on discipline,” said Molly Biklen, deputy legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “When New Yorkers took to the streets calling for racial justice in 2020, the NYPD responded with violence. This report gives the public a new window into the scale of officer misconduct, crucial access to troves of internal records and, in the end, stark evidence of the NYPD’s unwillingness to hold officers accountable.”
Over the years, the NYPD has consistently ignored CCRB disciplinary recommendations, downgrading or removing all discipline in a majority of cases before them. Only one officer has been fired as a result of a CCRB probe in the past decade: Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner on Staten Island in 2014 with a department-prohibited chokehold.
“This report shows that police hide from accountability and that the NYPD Commissioner and the City help them hide,” said Jenn Rolnick Borchetta, a managing director at the Bronx Defenders and a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform. “Police violence was rampant at the Floyd protests—just as it is ever-present in communities across New York–and the City’s failure to hold officers accountable for brutalizing people and engaging in misconduct enables a culture and practice of police impunity.”
Many advocates have called for more overarching reforms to the department’s approach to policing protests, including the disbanding of the “Strategic Response Group,” whose mandate includes both policing protests and counterterrorism. Scheduled oversight hearings at the City Council to examine the SRG’s role have been postponed twice in recent weeks, infuriating advocates; the hearing is now set for March 1.