By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City has agreed to pay millions of dollars to demonstrators who sued the police department, saying they had been mistreated during a June 2020 racial justice protest that followed the killing of George Floyd.
The proposed settlement would award $21,500 to each of the more than 300 people arrested in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the city's Bronx borough if it is approved by a federal judge.
The June 4 demonstration was among numerous protests in New York City and around the country after the killing of Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died on May 25, 2020, when a Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck the ground with a knee for about nine minutes.
According to a class action lawsuit filed later in 2020, New York police trapped hundreds of peaceful protesters in a strategy known as "kettling" before an 8 p.m. curfew took effect and then initiated mass arrests, using batons and pepper spray on some of the demonstrators.
"In the course of this litigation, we learned that this operation was preplanned and coordinated at the highest levels of the NYPD," Ali Frick, one of the lawyers who brought the case, said in an interview. She said the settlement appears to be the largest ever on a per-person basis for any class action suit related to a mass arrest.
In a statement, the New York City Police Department said the demonstration occurred at a "challenging moment" when officers -already dealing with the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic - attempted to balance the right of people to protest with safety concerns.
"Much of the NYPD's policies and training for policing large-scale demonstrations have been re-envisioned based on the findings of the department's own, self-initiated analyses and on the recommendations from three outside agencies who carefully investigated that period," the department said.
The total payments could amount to around $7 million, not including attorneys' fees, but a precise accounting was not yet available. Some of the protesters pursued individual claims and reached separate settlements, making them ineligible for additional payments, according to court filings.
Last month, the city's civilian police review board recommended that 146 officers face disciplinary action for excessive use of force and other misconduct during the 2020 protests.
A city watchdog agency issued a report in December 2020 finding that police use of force, including kettling, often failed to differentiate between peaceful protesters and criminal actors, adding to tension between demonstrators and officers.
The city paid out $121 million in 2022 in police misconduct settlements, the most in five years, according to an analysis by the Legal Aid Society released last month.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis)