A federal judge pledged to fast-track a group of lawsuits against New York City and the NYPD over this summer’s police crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters. During a hearing on Monday afternoon, Judge Colleen McMahon told the city’s attorneys that any efforts to drag out the proceedings will prove fruitless.
The stern warning came as the Southern District of New York begins the process of hearing — and likely consolidating — at least five lawsuits relating to demonstrations sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. That includes the suit brought last month by state Attorney General Letitia James, as well as numerous class actions filed by New Yorkers alleging their rights were suppressed.
“My attitude toward these cases is they’re going on a rocket docket,” said McMahon, who suggested that a summary judgement should be entered by November — meaning the cases would be on track to be decided before de Blasio leaves office. “I don’t like cases to hang around for a long period of time.”
The accelerated timeline came as the judge sought to draw a clear distinction between these lawsuits and the winding aftermath of the Republican National Convention, in which the city eventually agreed to settle with protesters for $18 million, after nearly a decade of litigation.
A request by the city’s Law Department to temporarily halt litigation against officers facing ongoing investigations was promptly shut down by the judge.
“There will be no stay,” Judge McMahon told the city’s senior counsel, Brachah Goykadosh. “If you’ve been paying attention it should be obvious. You can make a motion, I will write ‘denied’ across the front of it.”
At Monday’s hearing, lawyers for the city previewed their plan to fight back against the Attorney General’s lawsuit, and argued that recent reforms announced by the administration rendered the case moot. As evidence that the city is already reimagining the role of the department, they pointed to the non-binding disciplinary matrix — itself the product of previous litigation — and a package of City Council reform bills, many of which the Mayor’s Office has said it will oppose.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit named Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, and Chief of Department Terence Monahan for their role in last summer’s crackdown. In a letter sent to the judge last week, the Law Department claimed that none of the three men were “directly involved in any constitutional violation.”
Civil rights attorneys have noted that Monahan oversaw the response to several protests that devolved into violence, including the infamous ambush on marchers in Mott Haven, which a Human Rights Watch investigation said violated international human rights. Both Shea and de Blasio have defended the NYPD’s violent crackdown on the Mott Haven demonstration.