Downtown Non-Profit Sues to Gain Release of Protestors
Demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis take a knee outside the Municipal Building on Tuesday evening, June 2, 2020.
A non-profit based in Lower Manhattan is suing the New York Police Department (NYPD) to obtain the release of more than 100 protestors arrested during the recent demonstrations over the death of George Perry Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.
The Legal Aid Society, headquartered at 199 Water Street, filed suit on Tuesday in New York State Supreme Court, on behalf of 108 detainees who were arrested in Manhattan during the first five days of protests.
The legal action is based on New York’s procedural requirement that criminal defendants be brought in front of a judge and arraigned within 24 hours of their arrest. This guarantee was established by the Legal Aid Society (which seeks to provide equal access to justice to people living below the poverty line) in a 1991 case, Roundtree v. Brown, which challenged (and made illegal) the protracted delays that arrestees in that era often endured before seeing a judge.
In that case, the Court of Appeals (New York State’s highest panel) found that “arrestees held in custody for more than 24 hours without arraignment are entitled to release unless an acceptable explanation for the delay is given.” In Tuesday’s suit, the Legal Aid Society seeks to establish that 100-plus detainees have been held for more than 24 hours, that no explanation for this delay has been offered, and that they have not been released. The suit seeks to compel the NYPD to free them immediately.
The suit compares the current situation to NYPD’s roundups of more than 1,000 protestors during the 2004 Republican National Convention, when many of the people arrested were held for more than 24 hours without explanation. The Legal Aid Society filed another suit, also based on Roundtree v. Brown, during the 2004 protests, which resulted in the release of everyone held for more than 24 hours. The motions filed Tuesday also argue that today’s situation is more gravely serious, because everyone detained and held potentially at risk for exposure to the pandemic coronavirus.
“This flagrant violation of law by the New York City Police Department appears to be designed to retaliate against New Yorkers protesting police brutality,” said Tina Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “Under the new pretrial reforms, the overwhelming majority of these charges require that people be released on their own recognizance to fight their cases later in court. Instead, these New Yorkers are now being held illegally, deprived of due process and needlessly subjected to increased risk of contracting COVID-19, endangering each of them as well as the entire community. We demand the release of these people at once.”