Police watchdogs said officers “crossed the line” and used excessive force when they drove their vehicles into a crowd of protesters at a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn in May 2020. A defense attorney lauded their professionalism.
The two sides argued their cases Wednesday at an administrative trial for Officers Andrey Samusev and Daniel Alvarez. If found guilty of violating NYPD policy, they could each lose vacation days, or even be fired. The NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau has already declined to discipline either of the officers.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct, called for Samusev to lose his job and for Alvarez to be suspended for 30 days, forfeiting 30 vacation days and spending a year on what the NYPD calls “dismissal probation,” meaning he could be fired if he breaks the rules again during that time.
The CCRB’s case relied largely on several videos of the incident and its aftermath, which went viral on social media. No protesters agreed to speak during the administrative proceedings. An attorney for the CCRB said some had declined to testify on the advice of their lawyers after filing legal complaints in court.
The police response to the 2020 protests sparked hundreds of lawsuits and civilian complaints, including a federal lawsuit from Attorney General Letitia James accusing the department of using excessive force. The city’s Department of Investigation also raised concerns about the NYPD’s tactics in a report published several months after the protests.
But Michael Martinez, a defense attorney representing both officers, painted a picture of two officers who did what they needed to do to protect themselves during an “organized ambush.”
“You really have to put yourself in their position in that moment,” Martinez told the administrative judge during opening arguments.
Samusev testified that he ended up in front of a group of protesters blocking Flatbush Avenue near the Barclays Center while trying to find officers who had called over the radio, screaming for help. He said something hit his window, shattering the glass and cutting him. Video shows protesters surrounding his car, throwing traffic cones and other objects.
“I was never more scared for my life,” he testified. “I thought this was my last day in this world.”
Then, Samusev said, he heard something hit his car. That’s when he said he flinched and momentarily took his foot off the break. His car lurched into the crowd, he said. The officer said he put the car into park right afterward, not wanting to hurt anyone, and then got out, grabbed his helmet and shield, took out his baton, and fled to the sidewalk with help from several people in the crowd.
CCRB prosecutor Brian Arthur challenged Samusev’s version of events. He played videos of the incident from several angles, noting that Samusev’s brake lights weren’t on at several moments when the officer had said earlier that his foot had been on the brake. He said the videos didn’t appear to show anything hitting his car in the seconds before his car moved forward. The prosecutor also highlighted discrepancies between Samusev’s testimony at trial and the story he told his supervisor after the incident, when he said he had accelerated forward to protect himself and his partner.
“All of the evidence shows this was an intentional act on the part of Samusev,” Arthur said during closing statements, adding that he believed the officer had been untruthful.
Alvarez said he pulled up next to Samusev after hearing him and his partner radio for help. He described the scene as “chaotic” and said he had never seen the busy thoroughfare filled with people.
Alvarez testified that someone with a baseball bat stared him down and smashed his front headlight. He said people were banging on his car and breaking glass. He said he didn’t know what to do.
“I wasn’t prepared for this. We’ve never been trained on this,” the officer said.
Alvarez said he was focused on getting to safety.
“I was under attack,” he said.
The officer said that he assumed people would move out of the way if he started to move forward with his lights and sirens on. So, when he saw a gap in the crowd, Alvarez said, he started driving.
The CCRB also challenged Alvarez’s story, questioning whether his car had sustained damage before driving into the crowd or after. Arthur also questioned whether there was enough space for Alvarez’s vehicle to go forward without hitting anyone.
“What is clear in the video, absolutely clear, is that there was never a gap wide enough,” Arthur said.
Samusev joined the department in 2015 and Alvarez was hired in 2017. Both have served in Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct since graduating from the academy. While Samusev had received one other complaint for allegedly refusing to provide his name or shield number during another 2020 protest — an allegation that was not substantiated — Alvarez’s record shows no prior civilian complaints. Neither officer has been disciplined before, according to CCRB records.
Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado will review the evidence and make a recommendation. Then, it will be up to Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell to decide whether or not to accept it.
The New York Post reported Wednesday that Sewell had sent a memo announcing plans to “amend” the department’s disciplinary matrix after choosing not to accept the CCRB’s recommendations in dozens of cases, calling them “manifestly unfair.”
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.