A judge sanctioned the city Friday for its “completely inexcusable” idleness in a mammoth Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit related to the NYPD’s use of force against protesters in summer 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd.
The city has repeatedly failed to meet deadlines — and in some instances, has refused to cooperate at all — in the complex case alleging the NYPD violated protesters’ civil rights, plaintiff lawyers say.
At a hearing, Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein lambasted city Law Department attorney Dara Weiss for ignoring “a whole litany” of orders in the case, which consolidates 10 lawsuits stemming from the Floyd protests.
“If I order something and you can’t do it, you can’t just blow it off. Do you understand that Ms. Weiss?” said Gorenstein.
“We can’t function if you don’t read and comply with court orders. That’s just basic. I’m just flabbergasted,” the jurist later remarked.
J. Remy Green, one of the civil rights lawyers involved in the litigation, told Gorenstein that getting basic info from the city was “like pulling teeth.”
“They get away with things that no other litigant would ever get away with,” Green said after the hearing.
Among the evidence the city has declined to share are audit trails for police body-cam footage taken during the protests, lawyers said Friday.
The city has also failed to answer to how NYPD brass responded to an email circulated by ex-Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins in August 2019.
The email incuded a 15-minute video clip of a police shooting, which Mullins captioned “the best video I’ve ever seen.” It depicted unnamed officers calling Black people “monsters,” public housing a “war zone,” and Black people who live in public housing “Section 8 scam artists and welfare queens (who) have mastered the art of gaming the taxpayer.”
“We know for a fact that [ex-Police Commissioner] Dermot Shea weighed in on the sanctions on Mr. Mullins,” one of the plaintiff attorneys, Rob Rickner, said in court. “I suspect there were also a lot of high-level people involved in this decision.”
Gorenstein ordered the city to pay attorneys’ fees for violating two court rulings ordering it to comply with evidence requests. He held off on deciding whether he would reprimand city lawyers for their inaction leading up to the violations.
“We take our court obligations seriously and are working hard to meet the voluminous discovery demands for these 10 consolidated cases,” said city Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci said in a statement.
“Nevertheless, we should have notified the Court sooner about our production status.”
The judge also told Weiss to find the person who knows where the NYPD stores archived records that Green has requested in the lawsuit. They relate to the origins of police policies on dealing with large protests.
“I don’t understand why you don’t know the answer to that right now,” the judge said to Weiss.
The lawsuits in the consolidated case run the gamut from claims by people who say cops assaulted them during the protests to a suit brought by state Attorney General Letitia James to a class-action covering every protest held in NYC in 2020 from the start of summer through the end of November.
There are also lawsuits brought by legal observers and journalists who were arrested during the protests.
A federal judge consolidated the cases and put them on what’s known as a “rocket docket” in February 2021 to expedite proceedings and ensure the matter would be ready for trial early this year.