Civil rights lawsuit filed against RPD, top local leaders: Seeks independent monitor
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC)- A federal class-action civil rights lawsuit was filed by several groups Monday, and it’s suing the Rochester Police Department, several top local leaders, as well as a number of named and unnamed police officers.
The 96-page filing was issued by a number of law firms, as well activists and protestors from organizations like Free the People Roc.
The lawsuit spans decades of allegations of excessive force by the department, with a timeline starting with police responses to the Daniel Prude protests starting in September 2020.
"There is a pattern and practice in the RPD of using excessive force to suppress demonstrations against the RPD’s racist policing practices," the lawsuit claims.
CLAIMS OF "VIOLENT, UNCONSTITUTIONAL FORCE"
While the lawsuit starts its timeline with the Death of Daniel Prude, the timeline truly goes back to 1975, with the police shooting of 18-year-old Denise Hawkins. The suit uses this case, and several others to show what it claims as "a culture of violence and impunity" in its ranks.
More recently, the suit also explores the deadly police shooting of Tyshon Jones on March 10.
As mentioned, the suit goes into great length over RPD’s response to several days of protests following the September release of the body-worn camera footage from the night of Prude’s arrest back in March 2020.
The suit described the department’s use of "non-lethal" force, which includes chemical irritants, like pepper spray and tear gas. Further, it says officers fired more than 6,100 pepper balls at demonstrators and subjected the crowd to a Longe Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) on several occasions.
Additionally, the lawsuit cites a 2020 study conducted by former RPD Investigator Charles LoFaso, titled "The Effect of Race, Place, and Time on Police Use of Force", which found the department’s use of force was "overwhelmingly" used against people of color. The study looked at data between Oct. 2011 and June 2016.
Rochester’s Police Accountability Board announced earlier this year it would be investigating policies related to the department’s protest response. At the time, the New York Civil Liberties Union said members witnessed the department wield "unwarranted aggression and abusive tactics" toward peaceful protesters.
A "STUBBORN REFUSAL" TO REFORM
Through its detailing of different events, the suit claims the city, and the police department stubbornly refused to confront racism within the department. Both RPD and the city have put forward reform plans, or revised policies, including a recent plan approved by City Council that’s now under review by New York State as part of Governor Cuomo’s executive order issued last June, but the suit calls those moves "hollow promises."
The group says calls from community members to allow the PAB the power to terminate officers with reported ties to white supremacy groups was ignored by the Mayor in her proposed plan.
"It is little wonder why people of color in Rochester fear and distrust the police," the group said.
WHO IS NAMED
As mentioned, RPD is the central focus, however, other names in the suit include Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, former RPD Chief LaRon Singletary, current Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, among several others.
The filing came from members of Free the People Roc, as well as protestors who say they were physically hurt by the department’s response.
Among the group’s demands is the appointment of an independent monitor, which the group says would "reform" the city’s policies and practices in regards to the use of force, racially biased policing, and protest response. Additionally, damages are sought for attorney fees and other costs.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs say a press conference to address the lawsuit is set to take place around 2:00 p.m. Monday. None of the organizations or the leaders listed as defendants have issued a response.
CITIES WITH MONITORS
While the language in the lawsuit cites an "independent" monitor, several U.S. cities have partnered with federal monitors through the U.S. Department of Justice.
Notably, current Rochester Police Department Executive Deputy Chief Andre Anderson called for a federal monitor when he served as interim chief in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in 2014.
You can view the suit in its entirety below.
News10NBC Investigative Reporters Berkeley Brean and Jennifer Lewke are digging into this story. Look for their live reports coming up on News10NBC at 5:00.