NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told the state Attorney General on Monday that she wasn't being "fair" or "accurate" in her assessment of some officers' conduct at protests against racist police violence.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James grilled Shea at a hearing Monday morning—the third day of testimony as a part of her investigation into policing at protests—asking him about a string of violent videos showing NYPD officers driving into protesters, indiscriminately pepper spraying people, and waving a gun at a crowd of people.
"Those incidents of bad cops, who unfortunately engage in this conduct...it's those videos, unfortunately Commissioner, that have had an impact on the trust that is needed in order for our police officers to be effective," James said, referring to a string of videos that have become the backbone of various investigations into police misconduct during the protests that began May 28th in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But Shea took issue with how James described some of the videos, including the one in which officers drove into a crowd.
"I think that couldn't be further, what you just described, from an accurate report," he said. "What would you do when you are set upon and your life is in danger? That description of running over peaceful protesters—I don't think you're being fair."
An officer who waved his gun at a crowd of fleeing protesters acted appropriately, according to Shea, because prior to his weapon being drawn, someone in the crowd had thrown a brick at a lieutenant's head. The higher-up officer, "who is still injured at home by the way, was cowardly attacked with a brick, it was not a bottle," Shea said.
"I think the video speaks for itself," he said. "I was very disturbed by that."
Other officers were suspended for indiscriminately pepper spraying and a third placed on modified duty for slamming a car door into someone.
"When the officers are wrong, they need to be dealt with," Shea replied. "There needs to be repercussions, and that needs to be done swiftly and in a transparent fashion."
James asked Shea about protesters being kettled—a tactic in which cops in riot gear surround protesters, forcing them into a smaller location, which makes it easier to control the crowd and make arrests. Protesters were kettled on Manhattan Bridge on June 2nd, forced to turn back to Brooklyn after being locked in for a period of time. In the Bronx, more than 250 people were arrested and beaten minutes after curfew after they were trapped by cops. "Blood everywhere," one protester described to James last week.
But Shea wasn't familiar with the term.
"I was never familiar with it until about two weeks ago and I’ve heard it more in two weeks that I’ve ever heard it. I believe I know what they’re referring to—it’s corralling, if you will, protesters. But it’s not something that to my knowledge exists in our policies," Shea said.
When James asked about legal observers and essential workers arrested, Shea said he'd have to determine how "legal observer" is defined.
"I would just point out to the board here that having a shirt or a hat that says legal observer does not mean that person is an attorney, does not mean that they’re actually performing any legal function," Shea said. At the now-infamous Bronx protest on June 4th, at least 11 legal observers were briefly arrested, wearing recognizable green hats.
Shea said he only knew of a delivery worker being arrested, which he claimed was a "false report." The worker Shea seemed to be referring to was one who police sources claimed wasn't working at the time of his arrest, though later, the delivery company said he was making deliveries that evening as an essential worker. He did not mention the essential worker who briefly joined a protest between his day job and night job who was jailed for seven days for violating curfew.
Shea reiterated how the protests started as violent—contradictory to most of some 17 hours of testimony to the attorney general last week—and "outside agitators" exacerbated the situation.
"This is some of the worst rioting that occurred in our city in recent memory," he said during opening remarks, describing officers being hit with bricks and bottles as well as molotov cocktails thrown inside cop vehicles.
Nearly 400 officers were injured during protests, Shea testified. 65% required hospital treatment and about 100 remain off duty.
Shea did not provide information on the extent of the injuries or what types of injuries were sustained, nor protester injuries. The NYPD said June 8th that 132 protesters has filed injury reports, though it was likely an undercount of the bloodied, bruised, and concussed protesters who've recounted their experiences.
"We’ve exercised extreme, extreme discretion right from the start" Shea said. "I think when you look back at the number of protests that have taken place, when you look at the discretion that has been wielded by the members of the police department, we’ve tried to be as flexible as possible in allowing people to demonstrate, respecting their first amendment, but also trying to balance that against the rights of individuals that want to go about their daily lives in NYC. Driving on the streets, walking, going shopping, and things of that nature. And also having respect for people’s property and trying to maintain order and respect property owners and business owners to not have their stores damaged, et cetera."