When people took to Brooklyn’s streets in the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, photos and videos of police officers pepper spraying civilians in the face and shoving them to the ground lit up social media.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is responsible for investigating police misconduct in New York City, has spent the last two and a half years combing through that media, along with body camera footage and interview material, in an attempt to corroborate allegations made against the police, according to a new report that came out in February 2023.
The CCRB investigated 127 civilian complaints of police misconduct in Brooklyn during the 2020 protests, including excessive use of force and abuse of authority. The bulk of allegations in the borough came from three major protests — at Barclays Center on May 29, in Flatbush on May 30 and in Downtown Brooklyn on June 3.
Citywide, the CCRB received more than 750 complaints that the police had unduly used force, abused their authority, acted discourteously, used offensive language or made an untruthful statement during 2020 protests. It fully investigated 226 of those complaints and determined misconduct had occurred in 88 cases. Those 88 substantiated complaints contained 269 allegations against 146 individual officers citywide.
The number of police misconduct complaints the review board documented in Brooklyn accounted for 40% of the city’s total.
“Protests against police brutality bred more instances of police misconduct,” said Review Board Chair Arva Rice in the report’s introduction.
“If this misconduct goes unaddressed, it will never be reformed.”
The board recommended that 57 of 146 officers face minor repercussions, ranging from a reprimand to the forfeiture of vacation days and that 89 officers be subject to more serious disciplinary procedures, which are overseen internally by the NYPD and the Police Commissioner.
While the bulk of those 89 cases is still in the NYPD’s internal investigation process, five officers have resigned or retired, three pled guilty, four gave up vacation days and nine officers faced no discipline at all, at the commissioner’s discretion.
One of the cases where the review board recommended more serious discipline took place on May 30, in Flatbush, when two NYPD officers drove their vehicles through a crowd of protestors. The trial has been completed and is awaiting a verdict, according to the report. That was the same day Officer Michael Sher pulled a protestor’s mask down to pepper spray them in the face.
Many allegations of force came after the city enforced a week-long curfew, which began June 1, 2020, and saw the deployment of additional officers to places like Downtown Brooklyn. The City’s Department of Investigation said the curfew “set up needless confrontations between police and protesters and unfairly fueled public perceptions that the NYPD was abusing its authority.”
Former NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told the City's Department of Investigation that officers who represented the department’s Strategic Response Group were responsible for “engaging with protestors who were on the street during the curfew period.”
The NYPD objected to the review board's report, saying that the fact that the board was able to substantiate less than 15% of the allegations — 269 out of 1,800 — “confirms that the NYPD response to the protests during the summer of 2020 was largely professional, commendable and responsive to the unique circumstances that were present at the time.”
But, part of the reason so many allegations were not substantiated, according to the review board, was due to “pervasive and purposeful actions taken by officers to conceal their identities.” Forty-three percent of the allegations of misconduct were closed because the officer could not be identified.
In one such case in Crown Heights, a citizen reported and video evidence confirmed that officers played an explicit, racist song over their car’s loudspeakers after arresting protestors and striking them with batons. The review board said it could not confirm the identity of the officers driving the car because the vehicle was not properly signed out and the officers had lied about its whereabouts.
To read the report, click here.