Late last summer, Derrick Ingram, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, awoke to an NYPD officer banging on his door. Over the next five hours, dozens of cops, some in tactical gear, surrounded Ingram's home, using police dogs, helicopters, and drones to threaten his arrest.
Ingram began streaming the stand-off on Instagram, which only seemed to escalate the situation. At one point, he said, he noticed a red dot beaming into his living room, connected to police snipers on a nearby rooftop. “Please don’t let them kill me," Ingram, 29, pleaded with one of the officers. "I’m scared.”
The misdemeanor charge against Ingram — that he used a bullhorn to shout into an officer's ear, damaging her hearing, at a previous Black Lives Matter protest — was dropped this spring. But more than a year later, NYPD has declined to explain or apologize for the siege, which drew widespread condemnation and raised questions about the department's use of post-9/11 tools on civilians.
On Wednesday, Ingram filed a lawsuit in federal court that he says is aimed at bringing transparency to the department's campaign of "intimidation, harassment, and manipulation." In addition to "publicly terrorizing" him, the suit alleges that police relied on fabricated evidence to justify the brutal crackdown
"When this happens to people, sometimes they're not alive to tell their story," Ingram told WNYC/Gothamist. "There has to be a level of accountability and justice."
Police initially accused Ingram of committing felony assault by using a megaphone to shout into the ear of Officer Desirae Lafurno during a protest on June 14th, 2020. The charge was later downgraded to a misdemeanor, but was still prosecuted by the Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The case was dismissed in May on speedy trial grounds. (A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA's office declined to comment).
According to police notes that emerged during the criminal case, Lafurno initially found photos of Ingram after her boyfriend searched #blacklivesmatter on Instagram. She later passed his photo onto Sergeant Robert Townshend, who launched an investigation into Ingram, and began tracking his social media presence.
But it was a member of the NYPD's controversial warrant squad, Detective Andrew Smith, who initiated the stand-off with Ingram, according to the suit. While Smith initially claimed to have a warrant, he later conceded that he did not — claiming instead that he wanted to talk to Ingram about a separate incident, in which the activist had accused officers of police brutality in Bayside, Queens, according to the suit.
As more officers rushed to Ingram's home, the NYPD were trying to obtain a warrant from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. As part of their investigation, they deployed a controversial facial recognition software against Ingram, WNYC/Gothamist first reported.
“The NYPD scrambled to justify their siege of Mr. Ingram’s home based on a fabricated complaint against him,” an attorney for Ingram, Alyssa Isidoridy, said in a statement. “But that justification was entirely pretextual. The extraordinary show of force used against Mr. Ingram shows that the siege was retaliation — plain and simple.”
At the time, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that the department's raid was "not the right way to do things," while defending the NYPD against charges that it was retaliating against anti-police protesters. A spokesperson for the mayor declined to comment on the suit, deferring comment to the Law Department, which said they'll review the filing.
The NYPD declined to answer questions about their decisions leading up to the raid, including what prompted the use of facial recognition technology. No one has faced discipline for the siege, according to attorneys for Ingram.
Since the raid, Ingram has suffered from post-traumatic stress, he said, experiencing "nightmares, night sweats, paranoia and frequent flashbacks to that day."
If the goal of the police action was to dissuade him from speaking out against police, the effort was a success. "It's been a little difficult for me to show up in spaces with a police presence," Ingram added.