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NYPD commissioner testifies in ongoing investigation into interactions between police and the public

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Investigators grilled New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea on Monday about various incidents and controversial actions by the NYPD as part of a public hearing conducted by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Shea has previously spoken about some of the incidents of police officers use of force that have been caught on tape. But his testimony marked the first time he addressed police tactics used during the George Floyd demonstrations in New York under oath.

Shea said he and his executive staff noted from the onset that these demonstrations were far different from others in years past because of the violence.

“While the current continuing protests are peaceful, and they are continuing, the city experienced turmoil during the early days of these demonstrations,” Shea said as part of his opening statement. “And unfortunately some of these demonstrations devolved into riots, unlawful assemblies and other acts of criminal behavior.”

Shea’s appearance at the hearing came after two days’ worth of testimony from approximately 100 protesters, community organizers and elected officials.

Many who testified spent hours recounting their personal encounters with police, describing baton strikes, pepper spray incidents while painting a picture of a brutal police department taking liberties with their use of force.

During his hour-long testimony, Shea defended some officers who were caught on video in questionable incidents.

“Some used these public demonstrations, protests and marches as opportunities to engage in acts of vandalism, arson, property destruction, looting, and most notably targeted attacks against my police officers,” Shea said. “As police officers were trying to do their job they were attacked with bricks, knives, trash cans, glass bottles and other projectiles and other incendiary devices.”

However, Shea also condemned officers who were caught on tape using excessive force, notably, officer Vincent D’Andraia, who shoved 20-year-old protester Douya Zayer to the pavement. D’Andraia was charged with assault by the Brooklyn District Attorney. Shea suspended him without pay.

“I think the video speaks for itself. I was very disturbed by it,” said Shea, who agreed that D’Andraia used excessive force. “That’s why I took the action I did.”

Shea responds to specific allegations of police force

Shea only answered questions from James, as former US Attorney Loretta Lynch and NYU Law professor Barry Friedman, who were present at previous testimonies, were not there on Monday.

When asked about the use of pepper spray on protesters — and specifically an incident where an officer was seen pulling down the mask of a protester — Shea said these actions were “completely inappropriate.” However, he said it is an officer’s right to use such methods, depending on the circumstance.

He also said he was against the curfew, but understood the decision that was made during a conversation with both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

James asked Shea about officers who covered their names and badges, a common complaint among many protesters who testified. Shea said officers were not supposed to cover their shield numbers and name tags, but noted many wore black bands in honor of those in the NYPD that died from Covid-19.

The NYPD Commissioner said he trusted the discretion of the officers who arrested legal observers who wearing shirts that clearly labeled them as such.

“We go by the facts in front of us,” Shea said.

Shea also threw his support behind an officer who was seen on video wielding his gun in Manhattan, moments after another officer, who was wearing a helmet, was bashed in the head with a brick.

James asked, “You believe that that’s appropriate?”

“You have a long period of time where literally everything but the kitchen sink was being thrown at the officers,” Shea said. “Officers were being attacked on that corner for a long period of time. And the officer, the superior, a lieutenant, who is still injured at home, by the way, was cowardly attacked with a brick. It was not a bottle smashed down on his head. And this was the incident, that environment, to what the officer was pulling his gun out to.”

Reforms likely won’t impact department operations, Shea says

In late May, a video that surfaced on social media appeared to show a New York City Police Department truck plowing through a crowd during protests in wake of Floyd’s death.

The 27-second video, which was posted to Twitter, shows an NYPD truck in front of a crowd throwing objects at the vehicle. There is a barricade in front of the truck. The truck then appears to drive into the barricade, knocking over protestors. Screaming and yelling are heard while a person is seen jumping on top of the truck. It’s unclear if there were any injuries.

Shea defended police officers who were seen on video driving through throngs of protesters in Brooklyn, charging that the crowd who pelted the vehicle with bricks and garbage cans made it a life or death situation.

“Is it your testimony that the police car was an appropriate use of force?”James asked.

“I am not saying that the police car was an appropriate use of force,” Shea responded. “I am saying that the officers were set upon and attacked and thankfully they were able to get out of that situation with, thankfully, no injuries to anyone.”

Shea said any police reforms would most likely not impact the department operations.

“We’ve already implemented many of the laws that were passed,” Shea said. “Like you mentioned the filming at the scene, the choke hold, many of these things are already memorialized in our policies.”

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