The focus of so much of the recent George Floyd protests has been on police violence against demonstrators and others, but in New York City, the union that represents NYPD detectives is turning the tables.
“If you assault a New York City Detective and there are no consequences from the criminal justice system, we have to have other means to protect our detectives,” said Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, which has represented some 19,000 current and former detectives. He vowed to sue any protestor, rioter or looter who attacked its members.
“It’s heart-wrenching because they are out there doing a job under very difficult circumstances, trying to protect the innocent people that are protesting while the criminal element is within that group, assaulting, looting and victimizing not only police officers and detectives out there, but also the people of the city.”
The first lawsuit has been filed against a looting suspect accused of stealing items from a pharmacy in Manhattan and who allegedly attacked Detective Joseph Nicolosi. The detective claimed he was injured in the struggle when the 19-year-old suspect resisted arrest.
It’s unclear if the lawsuits will succeed — especially with laws in place protecting police.
“This is not a new tactic by the police. This was tried back in the 1990s in New York City, at another time when there was a great deal of unrest and ultimately, it didn’t work,” said noted civil rights attorney Ron Kuby, a veteran activist who has dealt with police issues for decades.
Kuby said if the detectives wanted to sue citizens, they needed to surrender the legal restrictions protecting them, such as qualified immunity. He also pointed out that cities legally have indemnified law enforcement officers, preventing them generally from being sued personally, and said both exemptions should be dropped.
“If the police want to use the civil law as a tool in their policing, those of us who pay their salaries have the opportunity now to engage in some real reform, which is, stop the indemnification of cops, stop the free lawyers for the police, stop the qualified immunity for the police — and we’ll see how that works out for them,” Kuby said.
Lawmakers in Congress and some state legislatures have moved to strip qualified immunity as a legal protection for police. Kuby also said police officers have gone to great lengths to protect their privacy, which would be removed by filing a lawsuit.
“The cops freak out about their privacy concerns and don’t want their personal history handed over to the very people that they are suing,” Kuby said. “That is another powerful reason not to go through with these lawsuits.”
Still, DiGiacomo remained undeterred. “We will be behind our detectives and pursue these cases civilly and send a message to the criminal element, that you are not going to get away with this. If we can’t get you one way, we will get you another.”
The NYPD has said that more than 350 of its officers suffered injuries during the protests.