Lawsuit Filed Against New York City Officials for Violating Abolition Park Protesters’ Civil Rights and Destroying Their Property
NEW YORK (October 20, 2021) — The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) and Civil Rights Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, Cohen & Green PLLC, and Gideon Oliver filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of two protesters who called for law enforcement accountability in the summer of 2020. The litigation challenges New York City officials’ removal and destruction of protesters’ belongings after police stormed into “Abolition Park,” the base of the protest community, at approximately 4 a.m. on July 22, 2020. The lawsuit alleges that the taking of protesters’ property with little to no warning violated their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, and was also contrary to state law.
“Filing suit against New York City is much more than a demand for compensation for property loss,” said clinic student Courtney Neufeld (L’22), who assisted with drafting the complaint. “This case puts all government officials on notice that citizens of the United States are free to exercise their First Amendment rights and if their property is seized while doing so, each individual must be provided the due process protections that are recognized in our Constitution.”
“This case goes beyond the loss of sentimental belongings,” said fellow clinic student Brittany Moore (L’22). “It is about the ability to question the government’s official use of power without being coerced into silence. It’s about not allowing abuse of power by government officials against individuals who are seeking to have their voices heard.”
In response to the murder of George Floyd, peaceful protesters gathered at City Hall Park in June 2020 and called upon the Mayor and New York City government to reduce the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) budget and to reallocate those funds to necessary social services. Protesters, who had renamed the space Abolition Park, created a continuous presence by remaining at the park for over a month with their personal belongings. Among them were Plaintiffs Jada McGill and Angie Velez. Both women remained in the park as passionate advocates for law enforcement accountability, and helped to support the community of protesters that gathered there. As they spent much of their time there, each kept important personal property at the park.
On July 22, in the dead of night and with little to no warning, armed New York City police officers in riot gear stormed into Abolition Park. Police officers startled protesters awake in a military-style operation, herded them out of the park under threat of arrest, and forced them to leave immediately without time to gather their belongings or protect their property. Protesters watched as NYPD officers and city officials tossed personal items into garbage trucks and slashed open water bottles belonging to the activist community.
In the months since the raid, the City has provided no opportunity for the Plaintiffs to recover their belongings. During the raid, Ms. McGill lost an irreplaceable engraved college graduation ring with their grandfather’s ashes sealed inside, among other things. Ms. Velez lost educational supplies used to tutor a young child at the park. The lawsuit seeks the return of these items, or compensation if they were destroyed. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the City’s misconduct violated their rights, in the hopes of preventing similar rights violations in the future.